Why over sixty years of animation history still remains obscure

Amid Amidi, editor of the animation news site Cartoon Brew, once wrote that “certain aspects of Japanese cartoons […] turn me off, and surprisingly these elements remain consistent throughout all of the anime I’ve seen, whether it’s a cheaply-produced OAV or a classy Miyazaki production. Namely, it is the unappealing and cold nature of their character designs, and the general lack of dynamics and complexity in their personality animation. The death of animation is if you don’t find the characters believable because subsequently the value and effectiveness of the stories those characters are telling is diminished,” praying “that the next international animation fad will be more visually stimulating and appealing.” Amidi’s opinion isn’t an outlier; in reviewing Hayao Miyazaki’s films, esteemed historian Michael Barrier remarked that “Miyazaki’s human characters, typically for Japanese animation, are little more than ciphers, their appearance and their actions almost wholly dictated by formulas,” with Thad Komorowski adding that anime “violates so many principles of animation—where’s the squash and stretch? the secondary action?—that it would make more sense to just shoot it in live action,” much of it showing “disdain for what makes animation a unique medium.” One could chalk this up to that characteristically American provincialism but this opinion isn’t uncommon elsewhere. In defending the older generation of Soyuzmultfilm artists, Fyodor Khitruk contrasts them with “those Pokemon”, arguing that at least the Russians mastered the essentials before breaking the rules. Even Giannalberto Bendazzi, an open-minded advocate for animation across the world, has plainly stated that “anime is badly animated” and that, barring a few exceptions, TV animation “requires little attention as far as creativity is concerned.” If any concession is made for the Japanese it’s usually in terms of their layouts and direction, the implication being that those layouts come at the expense of what actually counts. Listen to most intelligent animation writers and you might come to the conclusion that the individual animator is of absolutely no value in the Japanese system.

This must come as a surprise to sakuga fans, enthusiasts who value the animation in anime above all else (作画 ‘sakuga’ meaning ‘production drawing’ but also serving as a fan term for animation in general). The activities of sakuga fans and Western cartoon fans are much the same: they both read up on the history of their respective industries, catalog and attribute scenes to specific animators, discuss the theory behind technique, and edit together showreels. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of showreels for Japanese animators on sites like YouTube and Catsuka yet there seems to be a wall of separation between sakuga fans and the Western establishment. Why is that?

There’s a number of reasons. One of the most obvious is that the best examples of Japanese animation are usually hidden in relatively cheap OVAs, TV shows, and non-Ghibli films. It’s generally true that the best Hollywood cartoons cost a lot to make, and Miyazaki’s films are some of the most expensive in Japan, so one might reasonably infer that Miyazaki’s films are the best the Japanese can offer. Among sakuga fans, however, Miyazaki has something of a pernicious reputation for watering down the quality in his films, “correcting” nearly every shot to match his uniform style. It’s become a running joke that Miyazaki will invite talented animators from outside of Ghibli to animate on his films only to have them produce their least interesting work. That Miyazaki regularly badmouths the rest of the industry no doubt contributes to this misperception. As a result many Americans assume the only alternatives to Ghibli are low quality long-runners like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z.

Exacerbating this is a lack of competent gatekeeping. American anime fansites and magazines have until recently shown complete indifference to the art of animation. Anime became popular overseas not for its contributions to craft but for its novel take on certain scifi conventions, its explicit sexual content, and its longform storytelling. The few genuine anime researchers like Fred Patten and Jonathan Clements are more often interested in the macro- aspects of the industry, its economics and social impact, than the labors of individual artists. It’s not uncommon to see a supposed expert display cavalier ignorance to the basics of animated technique.

Format is another consideration. The format of a typical Hollywood cartoon is seven minutes of uninterrupted motion. The animation is always active and, when the stars align, always engaging. By contrast, even the most tricked-out sakuga anime will have moments of downtime: stills, pans across background art, flapping mouths. Most of the time sakuga fans are fishing standout scenes from largely uninvolved productions; even Naruto has moments of inspired animation here and there. That doesn’t negate the great work that still gets turned out but to Western eyes this is seen as an abdication of the medium’s demands – “I like my animation animated. Moreover, this difference in format puts American animation at a unique advantage. Because the corpus of American animation is relatively small and complete, fans know their field inside and out. Watching the same handful of shorts over and over again makes the subtleties of great animation easier to discern, even for non-experts (“Rank heresy it may be to say, the list of animated cartoons that warrant a length greater than thirty minutes is minuscule” Thad Komorowski). This means the theoretical core behind the Hollywood cartoon is extremely robust, bolstered by multiple decades of back-and-forth between professionals and historians. It’s easier for the Americans to dismiss alternative styles because the rules they follow have been thoroughly tested; any objection you might think of has already been accounted for. On the other hand because animation quality in anime is generally diffuse, sakuga fans tend to take a pluralistic tack on style. Movement, dynamism, panache of any kind is welcome since it loosens up normally stiff drawings. That isn’t to say there isn’t rigorous, theoretically dense writing on sakuga out there, but most of it is in Japanese or spoken between friends on chat rooms. It’s rarely committed to accessible, English-language text.


Densely packed motion (Bill Tytla – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

But even if the full picture was coming through, it’s unlikely this debate would be easily resolved. What’s at stake here is how we define the medium of animation. That is, strip away all those aspects of animation that have superior alternatives elsewhere – story, music, draftsmanship – and look at what’s left. That is animation. The goal of animation criticism, then, is to determine those things which only animation can provide. The potential answers to this question go far beyond platitudes about “making the impossible possible” and into identifying the fundamental characteristics of setting drawings in sequence one after the other. What might look like trivial quibblings to outsiders – all that matters is whether the film’s good or not, right? – can be enormously consequential in how we discuss animation on a higher level. Animation shouldn’t exist for its own sake, certainly, and there’s no shortage of animated films that are as vacuous as they are pretty, but without any way of meaningfully differentiating itself from other forms of art it might as well not exist at all. The Americans and the Japanese are the two biggest representatives of mainstream narrative animation, yet they differ so radically in their understanding of the medium that it’s impossible for us to judge one by the standards of the other. We have to step outside the fannish, tribalistic in-fighting and try to unpack the underlying theory at work.

Perhaps the best way to go about this would be by looking at the context in which both systems emerged: Golden Age cartoons tend to operate under the same set of standards as live action films from that time period, and the same is true for anime and post-war filmmaking.

Hollywood films from the 20s to the 50s placed a particularly strong emphasis on performance. A night at the movies meant watching stars like Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn act and all other aspects of direction – cinematography, editing, mise en scene – were geared towards serving that end (the so-called ‘continuity system’ of filmmaking). The best films of even the most stylistically individual auteurs like Hitchcock, Welles, and Ford were built on the bedrock of strong (or subtle) performances.

This is echoed in the many distinct personalities that populated Hollywood cartoons. Characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are extrapolations of their live action contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers. The guiding metaphor of American animation is that the animator is an actor, that they’re bringing inanimate drawings to life. Hence Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas naming their landmark book on Disney The Illusion of Life, or the English word ‘animation’ itself (‘animus’ being the Latin word for soul). When the Disney studio set about making the first feature-length cel animated film, the bulk of their focus wasn’t on the sets, camerawork, or staging but on how characters like Snow White and Grumpy might connect with audiences as if they were real actors. Though staging and such were important, to not have the human connection would be unthinkable. Not everyone followed this ideology – UPA famously broke from Disney’s methods, rethinking animation, per Zack Schwartz, as a printing-press rather than a duplicate of the live action camera, and early East Coast cartooning had different priorities, favoring all-encompassing spectacle over focused performance – but there’s a clear through-line from Felix the Cat to the West Coast triumvirate of Disney-Warner-MGM that traces the development of these ideas.

The techniques of full animation developed with these priorities in mind. Golden Age cartoons were almost always animated on the 1s or 2s (that is, one drawing per every frame or every two frames), giving a sense of on-screen presence that a lower framerate couldn’t equal. A Newtonian universe of cartoon physics was invented – squash and stretch, follow-through, secondary action, moving holds – to further strengthen the illusion that the on-screen characters exist in an internally consistent version of reality. And even though the overwhelming majority of US animation was cast by sequence, the concept of casting by character first developed at Disney before the war. All this with the intention that audience members don’t see the characters as animation. For Americans, the art of animation isn’t about the individual drawings that compose a sequence but about how those drawings interact with each-other in motion. To call too much attention to a specific frame is to confuse living animation for static illustration (Winsor McCay is often faulted along these lines despite the perspectival accuracy and graphic punch of his films). Likewise, animators such as Norm Ferguson could be comparatively weak in traditional draftsmanship skills but still capable at their job. American animation should be seen the cinematic evolution of figural art, bringing all manner of inanimate or impossible entities to life and placing them in a humanistic context. This is not so much anti-abstraction (most of these critics treat abstract animation as practically a separate medium with separate requirements) as it is a way of narrowing the scope of conventional drama to its meatiest center.

This is why the expectation for a good character animator is that they disappear into their role. Michael Barrier compares the Hollywood animator to a method actor, except the ‘actor’ created by the animator has no distinction between their exterior role and their inner psychology. It’s important to emphasize that although technical skills and consistent drawings are what separates a professional from an amateur, the soul of Hollywood animation is in the performance. Hence why most historians rank the rougher pre-war films like Dumbo and Snow White above the lavish features of the 50s and on. 101 Dalmatians might be polished to a mirror shine, but the characters are empty shells, stock gestures drawn to consummate perfection.


Caught up in the acting (Rod Scribner – Baby Bottleneck)

It’s obvious that anime doesn’t share these priorities. Even though there were a few personality animators of the Disney mold early on at Toei Doga (notably Yasuji Mori), Japanese animation quickly diverged. Character acting in anime is often symbolic. That is, personality is conveyed through shorthands for a particular emotional response (one doesn’t need to watch more than a few yonkoma comedies to learn what those shorthands are). Most of the time the ‘roles’ in anime are little more than stock archetypes or emblems of a particular social class, give or take a few distinguishing quirks. Even in serious productions like Miyazaki’s the animation rarely has specificity of character – any given Miyazaki heroine is interchangeable with any other. And when we’re able to be emotionally affected by what happens to a character or empathize with their situation, the acting is almost never the reason why. This is probably why anime characters are appealing to fanartists and fanfictionists; they’re nearly blank slates.

Furthermore, anime is limited animation, utilizing a significantly smaller number of drawings per minute of film than even the worst studios of the Golden Age like Famous and Terrytoons. Not only do less drawings mean less of an on-stage presence but the fundamental principles of traditional animation – the squash and stretch, the follow-through, and so on – are no longer presumed. From a Western point of view, this is much worse than the false sincerity of post-war Disney: Disney was driven by cliches, sure, but the Japs can’t even do the basics! The party line in America has been that limited animation “paved the way for the destruction of the cartoon art form,” so it’s no wonder the entirety of anime is passed over with quasi-ethnic rationalizations about “the stylized extravagance of kabuki” and the supposed cold indifference Japanese animators have towards their subjects (Miyazaki has voiced a similar argument, unsurprisingly).

But the notion that Japanese animation came about in unenlightened savagery doesn’t square up with historical fact. On the contrary, the industry’s founders actively sought out knowledge about how things were run on the West Coast. Yasuo Otsuka religiously studied Preston Blair’s book on Disney technique, Sadao Tsukioka went through Disney film stock frame-by-frame, and Toei executives even sent Nichido head Taiji Yabushita on a fact-finding trip abroad before setting up their own studio. When Makoto Nagasawa broke from the Disney tradition, his inspirations were Warner and UPA. Though the intent was different, the seconding system of the early Toei features was not unlike Disney’s supervising animator system, where one veteran oversees a team of subordinate animators. And even Hayao Miyazaki, quite possibly the harshest critic of Disney at Toei, found much to enjoy in their competitor the Fleischers. In general the 50s were great for animation consumption in Japan. The removal of the imperial government’s xenophobic censorship laws and the discounted prices of foreign imports led to an influx of animation from all over the world, not only from America but also from France (Paul Grimault), Czechoslovakia (Jiri Trnka), Canada (Norman McLaren), and Britain (Halas/Batchelor). Squint and the early days of anime start to resemble the various New Waves that were happening in live action cinema around the same time. Like the New Wave, anime was built on an admiration for the tradition that came before it, but also like the New Wave its artists consciously went in a different direction.

We could extend this (admittedly crude) analogy further. It’s sometimes thought that with the collapse of the classical Hollywood system, the director’s profile was raised. No longer the invisible steward of actors whose individuality strained against the demands of continuity filmmaking, film form could be used as expression in its own right. Cinematography, editing, and mise en scene usurped the significance of performance and staging. Moreover, the Paramount Decrees weakened the studio monopoly, resulting in a democratization of the means of production. This meant more low budget features with nonprofessional actors and verite photography. Of course film history doesn’t cut nearly this cleanly but it’s a reading which influenced one of anime’s seminal figures, Isao Takahata. Takahata, leader of the young turks at Toei Doga, completely reconceived creative authorship in anime under the aegis of French film theory, Italian neorealism, and Brechtian dramaturgy. The anime storyboard would be the conduit for personal expression, every cut, every pan, every sound cue under the absolute control of the director. This isn’t completely removed from the conception of the director in the West – Warner directors famously exerted close control over the look of their films – but it reflects changing priorities. It’s no accident that the anime industry has produced far more idiosyncratic directors than the Disney machine: Mamoru Oshii, Masaaki Yuasa, Kenji Nakamura, Koji Morimoto, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Osamu Dezaki, Hideaki Anno, Kunihiko Ikuhara, Mamoru Hosoda, and Akiyuki Shinbo, to name only a few.

However, the above seems to confirm the stereotype that anime is a “director’s medium” and not an “animator’s medium”. If the guiding metaphor in traditional animation is that the animator is an actor, and the Takahata storyboard isn’t dependent on strong performances, then there’s the risk that regardless of what anime might achieve they are, in the final analysis, “mere manga,” motion comics that don’t exploit the unique properties of the animated medium. Yet Japan’s animators evolved in tandem with the industry. After all, before Takahata it was the animators at Toei Doga, not the directors, who held the most creative responsibility for the finished product. But they were in most cases not actors. A better metaphor would be that Japanese animators are like cinematographers. They’re concerned with how a scene is shot, how it’s choreographed, how things move in-frame. This is predicated on a far more generalized understanding of animation, animation as the medium of artificial motion. The word douga (動画, ‘moving drawings’) captures this sense better than the Latinate animation. Thus character animation in Japan isn’t about character per se but the human form in isolation. If a Japanese animator is assigned a scene where someone is tapping their fingers on a desk, the questions they’re asking aren’t “How can I use this scene to illuminate the character’s personality? What does this action tell us about how they think and feel?” but “How does the finger tapping itself look? How should the fingers move as they tap the desk? How can I make this gesture expressive in isolation?” Peter Chung sums it up succinctly: anime is the “art of creating and controlling movement. It’s all about using motion itself as a means of self expression.”

Naturally, this conception of the medium had trouble fitting in Disney’s Newtonian universe. Though the most skilled Japanese animators make use of certain aspects of full animation, a new set of tricks was necessary for limited. One of the most essential tricks was framerate modulation. This is a fan jargon term prone to a lot of confusion as it can describe anything from merely animating two characters on two different framerates to animating a single character on multiple different framerates in a single arc of motion. The latter is the more common usage when describing anime, though the term 中抜き (‘disintermediation’) is perhaps more fitting. Yasuo Otsuka and Makoto Nagasawa began experimenting with framerate during the heyday of Toei Doga (though traditional animators like Yasuji Mori played with framerate in a more minor capacity as early as Hakujaden) and their experiments bore fruit during the transition to television. Rather than animate steadily on the 3s, Japanese animation ranges from 1s to 4s at the drop of a hat. The idea is that by producing more drawings for slower arcs of motion and fewer for the fast parts, the eye is tricked into inferring movement that wasn’t actually there. This is impressionistic motion, more representative of how the eye sees movement in real life than the ideal form found in traditional animation. Think of it as anime’s jazz to Hollywood’s classical. Of course American animation is extremely varied in its timing as well but varying the framerate between extremes, as opposed to varying the spacing and composition of forms under a stable framerate, most strongly characterizes anime (though as with most innovations of this type you can find earlier examples elsewhere, as in Bill Nolan’s Oswald cartoons). In general, manipulation of framerate has become an important tool for Japanese animators, such as how Yoshihiko Umakoshi in Mushishi animated the mystical Mushi on a smoother rate than the humans in order to evoke their alien strangeness, or how Takeshi Koike alternates lighting-fast syncopations with slowmo to give his work the slick texture of a graphic novel.


Slow-fast-slow (Yoh Yoshinari – FLCL)

Secondly, due to the greatly simplified power structure in Japan, animators have more leeway in experimenting with workflow, processing, and extended technique. Except in the case of a dedicated layout man, all key animators are required to draw their own layouts, which has a significant effect in how animators conceptualize their work (think of all the ostentatious camerawork you see in anime-style action scenes). The more adventurous get involved in other aspects of production as well: Kou Yoshinari handling the digital post-production on all his cuts, Shinya Ohira layering his scenes so densely they can’t be filmed by traditional cameras, action animators like Yutaka Nakamura choreographing their own fights instead of the director, and Mitsuo Iso’s “full limited”, where the key animator does every drawing himself with no inbetweeners touching the scene at all. Since Japanese animation is relatively decentralized, with subcontractors, small studios, and freelancers outnumbering big corporations, artists are inclined to think in terms of their scene or their episode rather than the show as a whole. This is why the best cuts in anime can feel like their own film-within-a-film, entirely disconnected from what surrounds them. Diversity, variety, and unevenness are the principal virtues of sakuga.

That isn’t to say there’s no such thing as consistency in anime. Frequently it’s the constraints of time rather than money that causes directors to spread their talent thin. One countermeasure against this is the sakuga kantoku (作画監督, ‘animation director’, also know as the sakkan), a remnant of Toei’s seconding system. The sakkan is an animator, usually the character designer, responsible for overseeing every key frame in a given project. There’s a spectrum of opinions on how to approach the role, ranging from close correction of every drawing to letting everything in untouched. Some animators, like Kenichi Konishi, are arguably as famous for their sakkan work as they are for their animation. Sakkans are present on every production from top flight features to bottom of the barrel TV shows, and though their importance to the former is obvious, a good sakkan can help compensate for the lapses of animation in the latter. Lip flaps and minimal gestures are significantly more tolerable when the lineart is jolted alive by the hand of skilled animator. Of course directors can help improve consistency too by carefully doling out assignments and pacing their storyboard so the best animators can make the biggest impact. There’s also the phenomenon of the “one man episode” where a single animator draws all the keys alone (see Space Dandy 18 for a recent example).

Yet the profoundest development within anime was the collapse of the distinction between character, background, and effects. Traditional Hollywood animation relied on a hierarchy of genres: aside from a few exceptional cases (Fantasia), effects animators never held the prestige that character animators did. In anime, however, many of the most renowned animators – Shinya Ohira, Yutaka Nakamura, Yoh Yoshinari, Shinji Hashimoto, Norio Matsumoto – are known for integrating all components of the frame together into one cohesive whole. It makes sense that if Japanese animators are cinematographers, then everything that can be filmed must be taken as their subject. Generally this results in a lot of flashy and gimmicky action scenes, and old-school Hollywood partisans, never the biggest fans of macho action cinema anyway, will sometimes accuse this style of animation of being ephemeral and superficial. Besides the fact that action, like slapstick comedy, shouldn’t be brushed aside as categorically thoughtless, it’s simply untrue that Japanese animators are only interested in making a first impression. Just as in the best of Western animation, the best of sakuga can depict the inner world in vivid detail, but if traditional animation is seen in the ‘third person’, as it were, then anime should be considered ‘first person’. We see what the character feels, not how they act. For instance, in Ohira’s Wanwa the Doggy the surrounding environment is an expression of the main character’s emotional turmoil, such that it’s sometimes hard to tell where a character ends and the effects begin. I’ve seen it suggested that this approach would be better served with live action actors swaddled in CG effects since you would have the best of both worlds but I find this argument off-base. Putting live action and CG animation in close proximity can only highlight their differences, whereas an expressionistic mindscape like the one in Wanwa only works if everything – characters, effects, backgrounds – is made of the same material and composed by the same hand.


Through the eyes of a child (Shinya Ohira – Wanwa the Doggy)

Speaking in abstract terms, Japanese and American animation tend to have their own distinct sense of beauty. Anime is often wrought, deliberate, and charged with a kind of anxiety that demands a visceral reaction, whereas American cartoons strive to appear effortless and graceful, as perfect without an audience as with, full of balance and poise even in the extremes of caricature. There might be a technological explanation for this – the Japanese use a top-mounted peg on their drawing desks while the Americans use a bottom-mounted one, a difference which Peter Chung describes in terms of animating analytically (top) vs animating by feel (bottom) – but I think it goes somewhat deeper. As a pulp industry with relatively little oversight from executives, the style of anime is in large part driven by the id of its makers. It’s democratic (instead of merely collective), with all the messiness and incremental advancement that entails. There’s a reason why both Miyazaki and Otsuka have said that young people make for the best animators.

However strong an effect technology has exerted on the development of the two industries, the most salient differences remain aesthetic in nature. This is born out by the fact that in their free time Japanese animators don’t draw or animate like Americans. They prefer to animate in limited, perverse though it may seem. Trying to compare their output without this in mind would be like comparing an ink wash landscape with a Renaissance nude. The fact that both traditions can be highly refined while entirely incommensurable is testament to the broad sweep of animation as a medium.

That none of this has reached the mainstream of cartooning can certainly be blamed on the stubborn ignorance of the other side, but ultimately it’s a two way street. The average Japanese animator is astonishingly insular and even the best sakuga writers like Ben Ettinger often have no interest in how things are run in the States. Even when someone like Toshiyuki Inoue, the veritable Dean of Sakuga, lists Bill Tytla and Milt Kahl among his favorites, it’s without an understanding of the full context behind those artists and their accomplishments. We live an artistic culture far more international than ever before. An American film critic not knowing who Hou Hsiao-hsien is would be seen as amateurish as a Taiwanese film critic not knowing the name Monte Hellman. Yet in animation, scarce few recognize equally the genius of a Shinji Hashimoto and a Jim Tyer, of a Yoshinori Kanada and a Ward Kimball, of a Hisashi Mori and an Emery Hawkins, to say nothing of the many great artists from the rest of the world. No one can claim be a fan of this medium without giving the bare minimum of engagement to the entire medium, especially in an age when the internet has made this information as easy as ever to find. And even if it were true that one side is “right”, that “Only the Americans know how to animate properly” as Tissa David once said, such broadsides aren’t the result of empirically-informed inquiry but are instead the laziest form of imperialism, generalizations from a sample size in the double digits. It might be that Japanese animation is flawed at a fundamental level, but there’s a massive, complex chunk of history one must wade through before that conclusion can become defensible.

This ignorance is harder to justify in recent years with the changing landscape of commercial animation. In the US, mass market 2D is all but dead. Features are exclusively CG and TV shows are lifeless flashtoons with virtually none of their animation produced domestically. This isn’t a new state of affairs and many seasoned animation fans have made their peace with this fact. Undoubtedly the best of US animation since the 60s has been independent: John and Faith Hubley, John Canemaker, early Ralph Bakshi, Suzan Pitt, Michael Sporn, Mark Kausler. Still, many struggle to talk about any animation from the last 50 years without reflexively comparing it to the Golden Age. The traditional cartooning establishment has their head stuck in the past.

Meanwhile, anime is slowly becoming the lingua franca of animation worldwide. The best animators in China and Korea are strongly influenced by the Japanese style, and prominent young talent in the West like Ulysse Malassagne and LeSean Thomas are trying to bridge the gap. Talk to any professor at CalArts or Gobelins and they’ll tell you the influence of anime on the younger generation is unavoidable. And in terms of raw technique, television shows like Dennou Coil, Cowboy Bebop, Hyouka, and Space Dandy have no parallel in the States. This is not an argument that the US should abandon their unique tradition in favor of foreign influence. Rather, the Japanese took the challenges of modern production seriously and we should pay attention to what they can teach us. Even if you remain unconvinced, even if the best Japanese animation will always seem somehow lesser, it can’t be denied that, more than anyone else, the Japanese have furthered animation as an artform within the economic confines of the modern world. Any attempt to build a viable industry around 2D animation in the future will have to look towards the Japanese for guidance, just as the Japanese looked towards the Americans when they first set out.

[The paragraph on framerate modulation was reworded and restructured based on input from lovcrimson in the comments below. The third to last paragraph was rewritten because I felt my tone was too strident, polemics and rhetoric getting in the way of what I was actually trying to say.]

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  1. Great stuff—hope to see more of your writing on here.

    In terms of our current outlook on animation as a medium, I think it’s somewhat telling that—and your piece has doubled my impression of this—I’m more or less ignorant of American animation. I don’t have a huge grudge against 3D animation or anything, but the unique aesthetic of hand-drawn animation (from whatever country) is something I’m particularly keen on. Yet, as you’ve mentioned, there’s not much of that to be had in America at this time, and certainly not in the sheer quantity it exists in Japan.

    And so, if I wanted to better educate myself on American animation, it seems that the most viable option is to return to the Golden Age of Disney animation, and so on. But—and here I suppose I bear some of the fault—my interest in making those sorts of efforts is severely limited by the fact that there’s basically no modern touchstone of that Golden Age. Sure, there are homegrown American animated shows on places like Cartoon Network, but as of now I’ve yet to hear or see of anything in that crowds (or elsewhere on Western shores) that’s induced my interest.

    My desire to dig deeper in anime—to see the shows and the franchises that make up its history, to learn more about the great animators working within the industry—has been motivated by having a consistent body of modern work beckoning me to say, “If I truly like this as much as I say I do, I really ought to find where it came from.” Will we ever see a American 2D animation industry comparable to the current Japanese climate, as unhealthy as it may be for the individual animator and as commercially governed as it is by a tiny subset of hardcore fans? I don’t know.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for American animation to start really producing new stuff to compel animation fans to return to the roots of American animation, but it’s interesting to note that, for all of the American establishment’s claims to superiority of craft, they’ve allowed that same craft to largely die out. A form of hypocrisy, you perhaps could argue.

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    • I don’t fault anyone for not being ultra-knowledgeable about American animation, just as I don’t fault anyone for not caring about the decidedly niche hobby of animation. No one should feel guilty for not being a gigantic nerd (unless they’re claiming to be knowledgeable about a particular subject when they aren’t). Though there’s something your comment brings up that I think is interesting: You can’t get into Oldskool American animation because there’s no modern reference point for it. I see where you’re coming from but I’d argue that, in a lot of ways, anime is that modern reference point. It’s built on the back on that tradition.

      That said, since there’s a chasm between fans of the older stuff and fans of modern “American” cartoons on Cartoon Network or w/e, you don’t have that dedicated ecosystem of fansubbers and streaming you get for anime. The history isn’t common knowledge. Hell, tons of classic Warner cartoons haven’t had an HD release.

      As for the future of American animation I don’t know. Quality independent stuff will always get produced over here, but that’s true of nearly every country including Japan. What’s interesting is in a lot of ascendent industries like China and France you have artists blurring those distinctions, mixing Eastern and Western styles together. Maybe the future of animation is somewhere between the two.

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    • “And so, if I wanted to better educate myself on American animation, it seems that the most viable option is to return to the Golden Age of Disney animation, and so on. But—and here I suppose I bear some of the fault—my interest in making those sorts of efforts is severely limited by the fact that there’s basically no modern touchstone of that Golden Age.”

      I’ll agree that there are few or modern American touchstones linking to that past, in the way of new animation productions, as you suggest. That’s one obvious avenue by which new generations of animation viewers would possibly wonder about and investigate American animation history. There’s one other obvious problem, however.

      As a child of the 90s, I was lucky enough to see that some Golden Age animation was still in limited regular rotation on television (i.e. as force-fed viewing material) and especially visible through the inexpensive VHS tapes that littered all sorts of retail stores. I also grew up around various relatives and family friends who nostalgically recalled seeing these films during their initial release in the 1930s, as well as with parents and aunts & uncles who saw them on television in the 1950s and onward. Albeit the gradual death of ‘silent generation’ grandparents as witnesses to these films; younger generations who have no firsthand experiences with these films becoming new parents; the death of rampant super-cheap home video offerings (again, as very visible and ‘force-fed’ entertainment options) and the burgeoning of an entirely new method of media consumption, much of this material (and more than what had been available in the 1990s or prior) is still actually very visible (i.e. Youtube), but only those who know to look for it ever wind up seeing it now. It’s no longer being force-fed to the masses as run-of-the-mill kiddie entertainment fodder.

      Obviously, many children and adults who would see these early films were not all going to become animation fanatics or investigate their history with any intent, but at least media offerings and consumption in past decades gave the select few with a keen eye for animation and an interest in history (like myself) a stronger push to form an intense curiosity and run with it.

      I’m an archivist and historian of early animation, and I have no idea about how the current animation landscape will proceed or what to do about its shortcomings. I do strongly urge any readers with at least an inkling of interest in animation history, though, to support the sparse releases of this sort of material that do come out. Colleagues like Steve Stanchfield (Thunderbean Animation) and myself (Cartoons On Film) are doing all we can to bring historic orphaned animated films (material that is not owned or controlled by any other entity) back into general circulation. As someone who has sat in on animation history classes in the past few years or lectured in/taught them myself, I’m often surprised by how little many of the genuinely enthusiastic students know about basic American animation history, as well as its early roots. The books and DVDs and informative blogs do exist…we’re just sorry they’re not more popular, or force-fed to the masses as Looney Tunes or Popeye once were.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree, most American animators are ignorant about the innovative techniques and approaches that the Japanese have brought to the medium. However, Americans would argue that general audiences are more concerned about characters than animated visuals. Witness John K’s rants about Disney’s hyper-realistic effects and UPA’s focus on design. I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer here, but both viewpoints should be considered.

    I think good character animation can survive even in today’s economic reality. Even on a limited budget you can squeeze in interesting expressions, poses, and movement. Not all Americans hate limited; I often see praise for early Hanna-Barbera and 60’s anime for having good designs and drawings. Actually, 60’s/early 70’s anime tends to have a more cartoony aesthetic and greater emphasis on the characters. You don’t see much of that anymore (besides Lupin). Maybe that’s what Americans are missing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I certainly hope traditional character animation doesn’t die out (and I hope I didn’t come off that way in this article, I’m equally passionate about both traditions), and I don’t think it will. It’s just moved to the independent sphere. Last year had new projects by Richard Williams and Ralph Bakshi, and a new Sylvain Chomet movie is set for 2017. Ideally there’d be more opportunities for guys like these to pull off large-scale projects but the market is not receptive. The efforts of foreign distributors, particularly GKIDS, have helped to broaden the palate for the average American movie-goer with regard to animation, so maybe one day we’ll see these talented independent artists gain a stronger foothold. But for now we should be pragmatic. No matter what John K thinks the average viewer wants the basic fact remains that anime has survived in this climate while traditional 2D cartooning has not. Maybe the lessons Japan can teach us have less to do with style and more to do with workflow, organization, and economics, but those are valuable lessons nonetheless.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, American commercial animation definitely needs an overhaul. It’s a system set up for failure; anything that isn’t garbage is a miracle. But if we changed the workflow and organization and such, I think good character animation could realistically survive in a limited form.

        (btw sorry about the double comment, the first one didn’t seem to make it through)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the article, man.

      For me personally, I’ve spent some time on one side and then the other: under John K.’s oftentimes hypocritical, dogmatic stance on Western animation and trying to teach myself cartooning/animation the “right” way and then going more into anime because of a lot of reasons (mostly because I felt hampered and stilted and frustrated with my own work) I’ve grown up just hoovering up ANY kind of animation I could get my hands on and I don’t want to come off like it’s any different for other children of the nineties but there was such a variety of stuff and it’s only now I am able to sift through everything and put labels or them (this is a Golden Age-era Silly Symphony, this is Fleischer, etc.) and even though I consider “Princess Mononoke” the first anime I’d ever seen, I recently went back and rewatched “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, which I watched habitually as a child and knowing it’s a American/Japanese co-production explained a lot. I’m not able to describe it very well but it’s something about the gestures and the movements of the character that feel really “anime-esque” in conjunction with the Western squashing and stretching that felt really different, almost jarring at times.

      Before I hadn’t thought about it very analytically but I don’t deal in extremes in preference or approach, like Western animation is better than anime or vice versa just because they’re both animation but coming from different approaches or methods but it does at times feel like fighting an uphill battle trying to vouch for anime as an art form when oftentimes its is, like you said, limited and uses stock facial expressions or gestures BUT at the same time, there isn’t a lot (in my experience) of resources to find keyframes or animatics or storyboards or just academic criticism about anime the same way there is Western animation, especially when it comes to Disney. In Golden-Age Disney features like “Snow White”, there is, I feel, an universality about the gestures and expressions that feel stock (cute animal characters falling down onto their butts, stuff like that) and Japanese animation is full of it’s own stock things (nosebleeds, the super-deformed expressions) that are specific to Japanese experiences and tropes, like my Dad whenever walks by me when I’m watching anime, he’ll note that characters that have outfits that emphasis shoulders, like capes with big shoulderpads or shoulder armor that it feels very “kabuki” and I wish I knew if things like that, even if it’s taking place in a far distant future, is a deliberate choice or unconscious based on that artist’s own cultural traditions. I also wonder sometimes if the opposite occurs, like a Japanese artist or animator seeing something like a Valentines day-themed “Silly Symphonies” with cupids flying around shooting arrows and people have hearts flying around them and just not understanding our own Western visual shorthand traditions.

      I don’t know if I had a point to this comment but…I wanted to weigh in a little

      Liked by 2 people

  3. FierceAlchemist January 9, 2016 — 6:00 am

    Very nice article. I agree that its a two-way street with sakuga fans and traditional western animation fans. I’m a big sakuga fan but I’ve also read The Illusion of Life and I respect the amazing draftsmanship and craft of the Nine Old Men. Even the best realistic Japanese animators like Inoue and Okiura would be hard-pressed to match the draftsmanship and subtle character acting of Milt Kahl.

    But as you pointed out, the animator is Japan is not as constricted by the director as many Western pundits would say. I love the fact that animators have in-depth conversations with the director about their cuts and are allowed to bring their own personal style to their animation. Under the Disney system, any animation that differs from the character model or significantly stands apart from the rest is considered a failure, it all has to blend together to create the illusion of life. I’d argue that the Japanese philosophy is more animation for animation’s sake rather than for the purposes of character. Just look at Space Dandy or One Punch Man, both are literally playgrounds for ambitious directors and animators to go all-out, with no regards for visual continuity.

    If I can make one suggestion about future articles, it would be to either include hyperlinks in the text or a “works cited” at the bottom for your quotes. I’ve read Peter Chung’s post on anipages about the differences between the East and West’s styles and I’m glad you brought it up, but it would be great if you included a link to that for those who haven’t read it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My experience as an on-the-internet sakuga nerd interacting with less than knowledgeable folk about the overall process of animation was always a relatively frustrating experience. Take this for example, when Kaneda passed way back in 09 a then 18-19 year old me tried to celebrate his idiosyncrasies and vast impact on animation in Japan on 4chan (both on /a/ the anime board and /co/ the comics and cartoons board) but I found that I was met with a few things:

    General unfamiliarity with the subject matter (animation as a whole)
    Dismissal due to “anime” (western cartoon fans)
    Negativity due to “overanalysis” (/a/ posters who can’t be fucked to care about technique)
    Some shitty youtube video where this dude swore anime was trash because it lacked “keyframes” (lmao)

    General ignorance made it hard for me to first “teach” animation to people and then host a discussion with them on that subject applied outwardly to things I actually wanted to talk about. I mean some people thought “Kaneda-style” animation was me having invented a terminology to insult western animation (like Canada style maybe??? lol i dunno) but in the end struggling with cesspool 4chan arguments forced me to know my shit so to speak, I had no choice but to know animation inside-and-out in order to properly promote sakuga to western fans. Reading The Animators Survival kit and the seminal The Illusion of Life, seeking out true historical context (for what was ultimately my love of animation and not merely sakuga) in order to frame discussion in familiar terms to better convey animation to those with little or no experience with anime was a worthy endeavor for me at the time… But I guess I stopped posting on 4chan, moved to Twitter and watched less and less anime. Oh well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I misspelled Kanada, I always think it looks to similar to Canada…

      Like

    • Same. For as much as the rhetoric in this article might suggest otherwise, I think ignorance about ‘the other side’ is a massive problem among sakuga fans. In general, I’m dismayed that so little of the canon is common knowledge in animation circles. Forget this US v Japan shit, there are substantial animation traditions in Russia, Hungary, Estonia, France, China, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, and more, that are just as isolated. In the world of film, expertise is measured by one’s intimate knowledge about ALL traditions, not merely that of one’s country of origin. In the case of animation, where truly great films are in vanishingly short supply, I can’t understand why a self-proclaimed animation fan wouldn’t be seeking this stuff out with zeal. Moreover, how can we know this or that anime is exceptional if we don’t know what the rest of the world is doing? My call here is less for automatic acceptance of all of anime than greater awareness. It’s okay to argue that anime is shit if you’ve given it a fair try.

      Liked by 1 person

    • LOL gotta give me that vid! X D

      Like

  5. I’m glad the community can count you, ibcf, magnil, Xiaoyi and others in our midst. Breaking down the barrier of entry by sheer enthusiasm for (non-Japanese) animation helps immesurably in exposing sakuga fans to the greater expanse of animation.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Good article, and the author did a nice job examining what perspectives animators hold of their role in animation production and how that influences their art. I’m saving this (and that gorgeous Ohira cut) for later reference.

    I do want to disagree with the line, “In the US, mass market 2D is all but dead. Features are exclusively CG and TV shows are lifeless flashtoons with virtually none of their animation produced domestically.”, but I’m not aware enough about what is actually on TV in the USA to refute it. I mean, 2D CG animation is definitely a thing and very much still animation after all. Hybrid traditional/3DCG animation is now pretty normal, and “3D anime” like those made by Polygon Pictures (Sidonia, Ajin, and the Ghibli co-production Ronja the Robber’s Daughter) are becoming more common all the time, and it’s not like anime doesn’t outsource a lot overseas as well.

    A couple minor typographical notes, in case they’re useful:
    “And even **Hayao Miyazaki(Is this name right?)**, quite possibly the harshest critic of Disney at Toei, found much to enjoy in their competitor the Fleischers.”

    “Though the most skilled Japanese animators still study certain aspects of full animation, a new set of tricks to take advantage of **limited (animation?)** was necessary”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome article. I agree with most of your opnions and your examples given, however I think I should share some my two cents on this topic. I still has some difficulties in English writing so forgive me if I have any my grammar mistakes.

    You’ve mentiond “frame rate modulation” in your post, though I always think this term could be misleading since we already had that term for display devices. I’ve been searching for the corresponding Japanese term for long time and couldn’t find it.

    The defination for “frame rate modulation” of animation in English community varies from one to another, and this is the main reason that I think this term should be challenged. Some defines it as frames/drawing changing BETWEEN different scenes (like what Sakuga Panel has described as), for example, using 3s for dynamic action scenes and 2s for smoother scenes. But if so, the concept of “frame rate modulation” isn’t a big deal, since we all know that even Disney has varies frames/drawing from scene to scene. Ben Ettinger would argue that the standard Disney rule was “1 frame/cel during pans and 2 frames/cel any other time”, but it’s not the truth. Not to mentioned Shamus Culhane or who else used a lot of 3s fast actions in his cartoons. I even remember David Hand talked about they tried 4s in one scene and it looked decent.

    Even if we defines it as modulation INSIDE one scene(as it should be), we still got a bunch of western animators using varies of frames/drawing in a single long scene, like waking in 2s and turns around in 1s. More often we would breakdown a long scene into serveral parts by drawing “keys”, and used different frames/drawing between “keys” if necessary. The only difference between Japanese animators and typical western animators in this concept, I think is that some Japanese animators would even use different frames/drawing on “breakdowns”(if we use western vocabulary, though it could be inacurate for those straight-ahead animators) between “extremes”, thus every bits of action looks timed differently. It is there in Otsuka Yasuo’s Samurai Giants’ opening, but still not yet in Horus no Daibouken. I say typical western animators because not every western animator uses the same frames/drawing for “breakdowns”. Bill Nolan had used that technique a lot in 30s when he animated fancy-free comical dances, 40 years before Otsuka Yasuo, though he didn’t coined any term for that. I believe there must be others in the west especially those tend to work straight-ahead, if we take a closer look into their works.

    Rather than “frame rate modulation”, I think the core of Japanese animation is 中抜き and you would see it mentioned in a lot of Japanese books. For explanation, see http://helloprohealing.blog.jp/archives/34112424.html (starts from 18:00).

    While I agree “the stubborn ignorance of the American animation establishment shares a far greater blame” than the sakuga fans, actually the Japanese industry isn’t an exception. As Peter Chung stated, “animators in each culture are extremely knowledgeable about the minutiae of their own industry’s history, but almost totally unaware of the individual achievements of artists of the other side. To Japanese animators, most American animation looks the same – and vice versa.” You took Toshiyuki Inoue as example, but he’s the most knowledgeable people about western animators in Japan and even he only knows about the Disney school of animators(I say school because I count Don Bluth in). I never seen any professional Japanese animators mentioning non-Disney animators such as Jim Tyer, Emery Hawkins or Rod Scibner, let alone those indie animators. Early Japanese animators took inspration from Warner and UPA, but it’s more like western animators took inspration from Studio Ghibli recently, they didn’t pay much attention to individual artists.

    I realized it when I met Sadao Tsukioka last year. Indeed he cited UPA cartoons as his inspration for limited animation, though ironically he gave the credit to Stephen Bosustow for those animation techniques, as we know that should be Bobe Cannon’s title. Mind you, Sadao Tsukioka is the representative of some Japanese animation academic organization(I don’t remember its name). Well, at least they know their industry’s history, which is awesome. We Chinese even don’t know about who animated what in our most significant cartoons(so I’m trying to do that), and I can bet French/Korean animation historians rarely know that as well.

    We all should be grateful for living in such a globalized society which facilitates cultural exchanges. There are some Japanese trying to get educated about western individual animators, and vice versa. Breaking the cultural barriers would be quite difficult, but at least we have hope, thanks to the Internet.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Fantastic comment.

      I was aware of examples of what we might call simple framerate modulation in both American cartoons and early Toei Doga, but I didn’t know if there was a linguistic distinction between modulating the framerate between scenes and characters vs modulating it within a single arc of motion. The word you give 中抜き (which gives the badass name ‘disintermediation’ through machine translation) probably fits better since it’s at the breakdown when quintessentially anime timing is most noticeable. That Bill Nolan fact is very interesting; I’m a big fan of his Oswald cartoons so next time I watch them I’ll be on the lookout for that. Crediting innovations in any field of art, even one as small as animation, can be difficult to keep track of. Even if we exclude America entirely, Mitsuo Iso wasn’t even the first one in Japan to cut out inbetweens. Nonetheless I’ll edit the article to clear this confusion up.

      With regard to the comment about equal ignorance on both side, I know. I have to fess up that there was a bit of rhetorical trickery in this article. I thought I could more easy sell sakuga fans on rectifying their own gaps in knowledge if it’s in the context of criticizing the other side for the same. Jim Tyer, Emery Hawkins, and Rod Scribner (three of my favorite animators of all time incidentally) deserve to be better known among sakuga fans, no doubt. In my defense, and this may be totally due to self-selection, I’ve seen way more JP animators praise individual Western cartoons here and there than American animators praise anime (mainly through animestyle top 10 lists and such). Their praise may not be systematic or with regard to specific animators, but it’s still noticeable. I feel less guilty about being misleading there than I would if I argued the opposite (that Western animators are more knowledgeable about anime than JP animators are about Western cartoons).

      Also your English is great! Please don’t let that dissuade you from writing informative comments like these.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I wish I understood Japanese, the particularity mentioned in the article seems interesting but I don’t really get it. Thanks for the comment though.

      Like

  8. Awesome article. I agree with most of your opnions and your examples given, however I think I should share some my two cents on this topic. I still has some difficulties in English writing so forgive me if I have any my grammar mistakes.

    You’ve mentiond “frame rate modulation” in your post, though I always think this term could be misleading since we already had that term for display devices. I’ve been searching for the corresponding Japanese term for long time and couldn’t find it.

    The defination for “frame rate modulation” of animation in English community varies from one to another, and this is the main reason that I think this term should be challenged. Some defines it as frames/drawing changing BETWEEN different scenes (like what Sakuga Panel has described as), for example, using 3s for dynamic action scenes and 2s for smoother scenes. But if so, the concept of “frame rate modulation” isn’t a big deal, since we all know that even Disney has varies frames/drawing from scene to scene. Ben Ettinger would argue that the standard Disney rule was “1 frame/cel during pans and 2 frames/cel any other time”, but it’s not the truth. Not to mentioned Shamus Culhane or who else used a lot of 3s fast actions in his cartoons. I even remember David Hand talked about they tried 4s in one scene and it looked decent.

    Even if we defines it as modulation INSIDE one scene(as it should be), we still got a bunch of western animators using varies of frames/drawing in a single long scene, like waking in 2s and turns around in 1s. More often we would breakdown a long scene into serveral parts by drawing “keys”, and used different frames/drawing between “keys” if necessary. The only difference between Japanese animators and typical western animators in this concept, I think is that some Japanese animators would even use different frames/drawing on “breakdowns”(if we use western vocabulary, though it could be inacurate for those straight-ahead animators) between “extremes”, thus every bits of action looks timed differently. It is there in Otsuka Yasuo’s Samurai Giants’ opening, but still not yet in Horus no Daibouken. I say typical western animators because not every western animator uses the same frames/drawing for “breakdowns”. Bill Nolan had used that technique a lot in 30s when he animated fancy-free comical dances, 40 years before Otsuka Yasuo, though he didn’t coined any term for that. I believe there must be others in the west especially those tend to work straight-ahead, if we take a closer look into their works.

    Rather than “frame rate modulation”, I think the core of Japanese animation is 中抜き and you would see it mentioned in a lot of Japanese books. For explanation, see http://helloprohealing.blog.jp/archives/34112424.html (starts from 18:00).

    While I agree “the stubborn ignorance of the American animation establishment shares a far greater blame” than the sakuga fans, actually the Japanese industry isn’t an exception. As Peter Chung stated, “animators in each culture are extremely knowledgeable about the minutiae of their own industry’s history, but almost totally unaware of the individual achievements of artists of the other side. To Japanese animators, most American animation looks the same – and vice versa.” You took Toshiyuki Inoue as example, but he’s the most knowledgeable people about western animators in Japan and even he only knows about the Disney school of animators(I say school because I count Don Bluth in). I never seen any professional Japanese animators mentioning non-Disney animators such as Jim Tyer, Emery Hawkins or Rod Scibner, let alone those indie animators. Early Japanese animators took inspration from Warner and UPA, but it’s more like western animators took inspration from Studio Ghibli recently, they didn’t pay much attention to individual artists.

    I realized it when I met Sadao Tsukioka last year. Indeed he cited UPA cartoons as his inspration for limited animation, though ironically he gave the credit to Stephen Bosustow for those animation techniques, as we know that should be Bobe Cannon’s title. Mind you, Sadao Tsukioka is the representative of some Japanese animation academic organization(I don’t remember its name). Well, at least they know their industry’s history, which is awesome. We Chinese even don’t know about who animated what in our most significant cartoons(so I’m trying to do that), and I can bet French/Korean animation historians rarely know that as well.

    We all should be grateful for living in such a globalized society which facilitates cultural exchanges. There are some Japanese trying to get educated about western individual animators, and vice versa. Breaking the cultural barriers would be quite difficult, but at least we have hope, thanks to the Internet.

    – magnil

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This should qualify as one of the best articles about animation ever.😄 I mean it; I learned so much from it that I decided to go back and see who else doesn’t receive much notice. I’d also include Svankmajer, O’Galop, Brakhage and other pioneers in the same list; stop motion animation may not be the most accessible medium, but Svankmajer showed how one could apply it effectively. As for O’Galop, he was one of the earliest French animators – check him out if you have the time. This also got me wondering about animation from other countries; Senegal has Pictoon, for example, and not many people think of the African continent when discussing film in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I would first like to apologize to both tamer and anyone who reads this comment for the amount of quoting I’m about to do in the following paragraphs, in my defense however, I’d like to signify that this comment is probably going to be-in it’s majority- somewhat of a summary of the article with some commentary on my part. My point of view is that of someone with a fair background on Anime in general and it’s famous directors, a little background on Sakuga and animators and very little background on Western and American animation (A number of Disney classics, Tom and Jerry and WB). A point of view which I think resonates with some of the readers, but before going on to that, some General thoughts:

    Thinking about American animation (I’ll stick to that since that is the vast majority of what I saw rather than Western) in comparison to anime always gave me a peculiar feeling which I could never shake off, I always knew the good works were a good deal above the vast majority of anime I saw but couldn’t put my hand on why that was the case and why I still preferred anime over them. You mentioned several potential reasons why that is for many in the anime fandom, more mature themes being also a valid reason among many others(which certainly appealed to me more as I was younger) but it still felt lacking. I always had a slight dislike for the theatricality and-what I perceived- as excessive movement in cartoons (which could be perhaps the reason I’m not nearly amazed by Sakuga as many of it’s fans, despite finding greater appreciation of it as time goes and finding it pretty cool in general). Conversely, this is also probably why I subconsciously found the subtlety and heavy reliance on symbols in anime very appealing. This reliance led to a contrast in characters between those two traditions which I will touch upon when it’s mentioned in the article and which led to me taking much greater interest in anime direction in recent years.

    Indeed, one of the main themes of the article is how those two schools of animation developed to have such a difference in philosophies that reflected itself in format, priorities while animating, degree of importance of other factors (such as music) among many other things, and as I reached the part where this phrase is mentioned:

    “I like my animation animated.”

    to summarize why American animation fans dislike anime, I found myself very sympathetic to their view. If one has an idea of the basics of what makes animation what it is, and then someone comes and walks over it in favor of something that is seemingly of little importance in comparison, it’s bound for one to find such a work distasteful (especially when one keeps in mind how trashy a good deal- if not the majority-of anime is).

    The article then goes on to provide a very interesting insight (especially to the uninformed reader) into the development of American animation(which sheds more direct light on why the aforementioned dislike took place from a theoretical point of view), some of which I will quote and comment on here:

    1-“Because the corpus of American animation is relatively small and complete”

    I found this to be interesting when one looks at the shear scale of the anime industry in Japan, which-despite being both financially and in terms of labor-force inferior in comparison to former American studios( this is an assumption admittedly)- produces tens of shows every season. I always personally found it stunning how one country can produce this amount of animation by itself and reading on how the Japanese generally emphasize quantity and subtelty in animation as means of coping with the market (among other things) in comparison to American animation which heavily favors expressive and dynamic animation (animation itself basically), as the core of the whole process.

    2-“This means the theoretical core behind the Hollywood cartoon is extremely robust,
    bolstered by multiple decades of back-and-forth between professionals and historians.

    This is insightful in considering why the views seem to have cemented themselves in American circles. Indeed, the analogy comparing it to classical music feels extremely fitting to me.

    3-“were built on the bedrock of strong (or subtle) performances.
    This is echoed in the many distinct personalities that populated Hollywood cartoons.”

    Reading this, it finally clicked to me why there was such focus on expressive characters in American animation, it wasn’t just a personal impression I had, nor was it without reason and background.

    4-“To call too much attention to a specific frame is to confuse living animation for static illustration”

    Reading this, I remembered how it’s a staple habit of anime fans to provide frames from scenes liked, or to commend particular frames for being particularly artistic or beautiful (in other words, an aspect of anime which many anime fans doubtlessly like), something which simply doesn’t apply to American animation.

    5-“Likewise, animators such as Norm Ferguson could be comparatively weak in traditional draftsmanship skills but still capable at their job.”

    5,1-“It’s important to emphasize that although technical skills and consistent drawings are what separates a professional from an amateur, the soul of Hollywood animation is in the acting.
    Hence why most historians rank the rougher pre-war films like Dumbo and Snow White above the lavish features of the 50s and on. ”

    Basically the skills one needs to be a good animator differ a good deal from those needed to be a good painter or illustrator. “Putting the life into the characters” is the animator’s job from this perspective.

    6-“This is why the expectation for a good character animator is that they disappear into their role. Michael Barrier compares the Hollywood animator to a method actor, except the ‘actor’
    created by the animator has no distinction between their exterior role and their inner psychology.

    6,1-“Japanese animation quickly diverged. Character acting in anime is often symbolic. That is, personality is conveyed through shorthands for a particular emotional response

    If one asked me to give one reason I disliked many characters in American animation or found them basic, then it would easily be this (6). Having had an interest in psychology for long years (enough to actually major in it) is what made me stop looking back on American animation for many many years after finding anime. Characters that reflected their entire being in their actions struck me as critically one dimensional and far from the human experience, and although I can see that this critique is both harsh and partially misled- not to mention that it’s due to a philosophical difference in traditions and fully deliberate-it’s still the main reason I prefer anime.

    I also found 6.1 to be very insightful when one considers how much psychoanalysis is referenced in anime and how much influence it seems to play in some works. In addition, many renowned works on the psychology of anime related individuals or fans (works like The beautiful fighting girl) are also from a psychoanalytical perspective (Focus on symbols, subconscious, etc).

    There is however a second and very big reason I prefer anime, direction:

    1- “The anime storyboard would be the conduit for personal expression, every cut, every pan, every sound cue under the absolute control of the director”

    1.1-Peter Chung sums it up succinctly: anime is the “art of creating and controlling movement.
    It’s all about using motion itself as a means of self expression.”

    1.2-For instance, in Ohira’s Wanwa the Doggy the surrounding environment is an expression of the main character’s emotional turmoil,
    such that it’s sometimes hard to tell where a character ends and the effects begin. We see what the character feels, not how they act.

    The fact that the director has the entire resources in the shot at his disposal to convey a certain feeling in anime is utterly baffling to me, it’s also the reason why I took interest in direction in general, but that of animation feels like a level above in the space and potential. It feels to me like walking in the street and finding that background music started playing and the environment changing based on one’s mood and emotions… The subtlety, and symbolism a director can insert into a single shot or scene is astonishing, it can relay so much meaning and depth when it’s realized to it’s full potential….

    I didn’t want to talk much about the conflict itself and how it’s viewed by fans of both traditions but a little probably needs to be said:

    1-I believe that this difference is meant to be seen as just that, a difference in philosophy that led to greatly diverging traditions. It’s up to us to have preferences but there is simply no better or worse here, no good and bad, it’s just a matter of preference and beliefs.

    2-The rift between the two is indeed very sad and it would be very cool if at least fans on both sides can come closer to each other but I think it begins for anime fans by realizing that many of the works of Western and American animation are legitimate works of art that have shitton of thought, theory and tradition behind them and dismissing them as “works for children” or whatnot is outright stupid, being ignorant can be okay, spouting bullshit never is.

    3-Finally, it saddens me greatly how traditional Animation fell out of the mainstream in the west and I would like to put one final quote in concluding this comment:

    “This is not an argument that the US should abandon their unique tradition in favor of foreign influence.
    Rather, the Japanese took the challenges of modern production seriously and we should pay attention to what they can teach us.”

    I’m both sorry and thankful for the time you took in read this extremely long comment, and I ask you to forgive any mistakes as English isn’t my mother tongue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t apologize for a long comment. I’m flattered you took the time to write it!

      The quantity v quality issue is an interesting sidebar to this. Toshiyuki Inoue once said that aspiring animators should learn to not only produce high quality work but produce it on the quick. That’s why compared to his peers like Ohira and Iso, who take forever on their scenes, he emphasizes turning out a regular stream of content. Quality and quantity is the only way to beat the pervasive mediocrity in the anime industry (probably why Inoue is a huge fan of KyotoAni; they’re super consistent AND high volume). From what I’ve read, it seems that anime is very much “learn as you go” rather than in the US where making your way up from inbetweening to key animation is a long and arduous journey.

      Your criticism of US animation’s theatricality is a common one among anime fans. I would say that, in general, any character animation that mugs the camera and acts too self-aware is bad character animation. You get this in a lot of those Silver Age Disney features – characters that might as well be winking at the camera. But I would say the best of American animation isn’t stagey but exaggerated, caricatured, and expressive. The Americans didn’t develop this complex and convoluted system of traditional animation just to mimic what live action actors can already do. The dwarves in Snow White can move their faces in ways that don’t respect the normal laws of anatomy, Scribner’s Daffy literally distorts and mutates his body with his emotions, and Emery Hawkins’s famous Greedy scene shows how strange and out-there ‘traditional’ character animation can get. I won’t begrudge anyone their preferences – I get fatigued by an overabundance of either – but I recommend giving US cartoons another try every one and a while. Even if you dislike them, you’ll know exactly why you do.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This mirrors in many ways how I feel about the way the West looks at anime, I had trouble understanding why beyond perhaps cultural differences as far as content goes(which I think is definitely true), but one too many times I’ve seem people that say are interested in animation that would completly disregard anything coming from Japan and I couldn’t shake the feeling there had to be something else to it.

    Of all the things you mentioned I think that the body of work of American animation being smaller and therefore it is easier to have a full grasp on, rings the most true to me.

    One too many times I have seen someone say “this is the best animated scene of all time!” when talking about some arbitrary moment in any western film or TV show and I couldn’t help but say “but anime brings us something like that about every other week!”. Except I wouldn’t actually say it because there’s a stigma about bringing up anime when people aren’t already talking about it.

    Which I think is still the biggest contributor when talking about Sakuga fans being bad ambassadors. It’s badly looked upon to bring anime up when it’s “uncalled” for.

    I’m not sure I agree on the reasons you give for anime attracting fanfiction at all though, I think that might be a completly different phenomenon, either that or I missinterpreted your point there.

    A++ for mentioning Hyouka, still one of the best looking T.V. shows of all time.

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing this on other corners of the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I want to keep this short and sweet.

    There isn’t a lot of articles like this in the internet. This article is one of the rare ones that makes one think on what is, what could have been, what went wrong, what others got wrong and what is in the future for fans of the animation world.

    This essay is truly beautiful in the way that says – there is a world beyond this. There were worlds beyond all of the corporate and incorporated works. And for rare times, those small rare times where Americans saw other work from other places. I think the sad thing and the reason why things seem so dead in the business in the US now is that the people who work in the industry now, were second tier folks compared to Michael Sporn and others, who the bigger animation houses never gave them a chance in the business after John K lost Ren And Stimpy to Nick and After Titan AE’s animated series fell through and got retooled after Bluth capitulated to Fox and the rest of those folks during the production of the Movie.

    The story of American animation right after Titan AE, the success of Pokemon some time later and the move away from something substantial to the dross and the gameplaying from the rest of business would fill whole novels. But i think one needs to look at what happened to Thundercats 2011 and its missed opportunities and then the shows that took place AFTER CN stated that there were going to be no more episodes of the Thundercats 2011 and what has happened to each of the fanbases of the shows that did live. Did it help their networks? Did it help gain respect of infamy?

    Because what i see, is that US animation is lead by those – after all is said and done, that finally realizes that they didn’t do a good enough job convincing both their students and their fans that animation done in the west was worth more than a toy grab or a feather in ones cap. Now – their second tier animation students, who were no where near as talented as the men and women i mentioned above, have shows on CN and Nick that are nowhere close to even Spongebob, Ferb and others. And now they play political games with their aduiance in order for these second tier animators and that fanbase they wish to reach, to have ownership of a show with no declarable catch other than misguided sensuality coded in jewels (it doesnt help matters when said fans of said show, told another fan to go kill her self because she drew one of the mains with less thickness than what the creators did).

    Amid Amidi may be one of the more closely connected and younger of these critics and leaders, but he will continue to search for something that will not exist as long as the leaders of this said business protect folks that will never promote or push the medium forward. He can judge all the rest of the animation panels in the world, and do a great job on it – but he will never find the next animation style hit.

    Because that style hit cannot exist without any imprint from Japan regardless of what anybody thinks. And this is where we come to the reasons why. America has gone through traumas that it hasn’t gotten over. It shows it its movies, TV and music. Yet its animation – is showing concepts from decades before. Japan does this as well, but very recently it started to go and talk about these issues in a very honest and satirical manner. American animation is stuck in post 1994 Lion King mode. It had so many chances to move forward, but because corporate saw toy money (which is mostly gone) nothing gets done. And so – nothing the US does in Animation has a impact as Lion King does (or Wall-E for CGI) but they have social-corporate impact.

    It maybe high time to see a way to rebuild the US industry with Anime as one of the cores.

    Thank you for this essay
    Novid

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  13. Disclaimer: Anime fan linked here from an anime site, I know next to nothing about animation, even Sakuga. I write stories and spend a lot of time analyzing storytelling and character development, in anime, novels, theater, western animation, and all sorts of media. So that got me curious – you say that anime characters tend to be animated as symbols, “blank slates,” and not fully fleshed out characters. Did you mean this across the board, or in general? Does this mean something different from an animation perspective than a writing perspective? In the anime I like, which aren’t the most popular ones but are still anime, the characters are well written and the animation supports this, as do the character designs. I see moments when the animation, and the character’s movement, adds to the character development, and it could be that I just don’t know enough, but maybe the shows I connect with are exceptions to the rule. I’m not talking about things like Sword Art Online or Bleach. The thing that spring to mind first is a series called K Project. There are these little character moments, facial expressions and small gestures that they really could have gotten by without adding, but the fact that they did adds miles of depth to the characters – and keeps the viewer engaged while the show takes it’s time to reveal what’s going on. Those do a lot to endear the characters to you, similar to watching a great actor in live-action, like you said it should be, and it’s a large part of the show’s appeal. That, and the nostalgia caused by its similarities to great mid-00’s anime series like Fullmetal Alchemist (’03), Code Geass, Samurai Champloo, and others, which I’d say also have these qualities. I’m not saying these are the best examples of Sakuga or anime or anything from an animation standpoint… I just was wondering where this sort of thing fits into that description of the issues with character animation in anime. Maybe it’s something that’s only relevant coming at it from a story perspective and not an animation one, in which case, sorry for the long comment.

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    • I probably should’ve been more specific in the article, but I wasn’t trying to say that there’s absolutely no moments of characterization in anime. It’s that those moments usually stem from aspects of filmmaking other than the acting; framing, lighting, the rhythm of the editing, and so on. For example, every character in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is blank faced and emotionless at pretty much all times, but the dense atmosphere that Oshii builds around them lends their interactions a sense of melancholy and emotional poignancy. Their inner feelings are externalized into the world around them (hence why I think “expressionist” is a good descriptor). But if you look at the ‘actors’ themselves, they aren’t doing much. If you’ve ever seen any of the films of Robert Bresson, with his impassive actor-models, it’s sort of like that. To Americans all anime characters are ‘actor-models’ and since they consider the core of narrative cartooning to be character animation and character animation alone, they’ll look at films like Spirited Away and Perfect Blue and wonder why they couldn’t be filmed in live action with CG or special effects.

      Granted it’s not all black and white – there are examples of ‘acting’ in anime, no doubt – but it’s not as much of a singular focus as it is in the West. There might be a few distinguishing quirks separating boisterous genki girl A from boisterous genki girl B, but it’s not surprising to see fans have massively different interpretations of the same character, whereas Golden Age animation is too specific to allow that. This might be an intended feature: if the parameters for a character are less rigid, it’s easier to imagine oneself and one’s friends in the positions of the main cast. Hence the supposedly escapist nature of anime.

      Liked by 2 people

      • that “acting” you talk about that cartoons once have are unfortunately only seen in CGI movies. the detail of the human moments – down to hair and the simple sway of clothing – is put in and is quickly and clearly seen. but that’s about all the places you’re going to find it now. people don’t bother with that in cartoons anymore. the characters are stocky and easy to draw, the hair has next to no movement unless there is “necessary scenes” for it to happen (such as a big gust of wind has come and/or a really big explosion and such). the same is with clothes and the like.

        if you want to really see the “acting” in recent days, look at when marnie was there (i haven’t seen it in the conversation thus far so i’m assumign you haven’t seen it). the story is pretty much meh but my gosh the detail (what you call acting) in there is no joke. it seemed like the one movie that ghibli just simply wanted to show off.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for the excellent post. I have so much things to say…Oh well..

    As a guy who is Sakuga fan; have studied Disney-style animating method; and enjoyed European feature animations all while in a certain art school, I try not to have limited view on what animation should be. While there is nothing wrong having great character animation, what disappoints me is that it could not adjust itself accordingly (due to rabid fan expectations) to make better 2D animation in America. For one thing, I see gross inefficiency and singular mindset of “character animation trumps everything else” are not helping to produce better 2D animation production in America.

    Since changes in media landscape has impacted how animation should be made along with much smaller budget and more individual groups, efficiency comes into play as there are severe limitations. As for efficiency itself, never-pausing character animation used in Golden/Silver Age is impractical today as it consumes precious time and money which most animation producers will never have. So where do we use character animation? If Japanese has taught us anything, then we should use it on most pivotal scene in the given animated show, not spreading it out to “mundane” scenes that don’t require Academy award performance. I think we became so inefficient and ignorant that we slowly killed our 2D animation industry without giving much thought. As long as lavish character animation is all over the place, we wrongly assumed that millions of people will to pay money to watch for it, when in reality it’s the other factors that makes or break the show.

    It is shameful that supporters of western 2D animations call others inferior as we strangled our own animation industry by being inefficient and ignorant. Instead of fighting tooth and nail to make 2D animation relevant in commercial arena, we ran the business as usual thus brought ruins to the industry. If we look at failure of recent expensive 2D feature animations, why did they failed despite lavish character animation and higher-than-high budget? For one thing, feature 2D animations failed to capture attention from young people who are used to interactive medium of video game and social media. In media world, it’s the young people who spend their income more than older people. Fairy tale or not, I do think that 1930’s method of cinematic expression can’t resonate well with young people’s conscious. Overdeveloped character and tightfisted control of audience expectation along with never-pausing character animation doesn’t give breathing room for audience who want things loose and approachable like video game.

    When TV animation work in the America is simply about storyboarding and designing, then will the new generation of directors and designers alone will have needed knowledge and experience that can bring up 2D animation as relevant art form? It’s not the high budget that makes animation relevant, but passing the knowledge and allowing new generation to express themselves in their own way is what keeping animation alive and relevant.

    To me, groaning about not doing the same way as Golden/Silver Age is disingenuous to the art form and is not supporting new generation of animation artists who want to carry the torch and trying to make the animation art better in the arena of commercial animation.

    When cartoon fans, critics, and professionals solely judge quality of animation for character animation alone, I do think this defeats the purpose of having other artists working on animation as well. If character animation is the sole reason for “quality animation”, then what is the point of having writers, actors, art director, FX animator, colorist, and many others if assumption is that audience will only care about how characters move?

    Of course there are excellent independent 2D animations all over the U.S. and the world are being produced every year, but they don’t have marketing power associated commercial animations to present it to mass audience. Even with proliferation of streaming videos, it is still hit or miss for wider attention

    As I said earlier, the “character animation is all” mindset is outdated and unappealing. Why is that? Even though method acting that influenced Golden Age character animation is relevant, but its mannerism, timing, designs, cinematography are need to be up to date with what new generation wants to see and experience. Live action film has been going through changes with directors who built their skills through smaller innovative independent films and TV, and they bring new ideas and concepts from that experience. It’s sad that commercial 2D animation here aren’t flexible enough to recognize and support the needed changes. If Anime taught one thing is that their method is flexible enough to allow young artists to shine whether it’s director or animator.

    As for Sakuga fandom, I do get tired of seeing flashy animation which doesn’t look all that inspiring. Nowadays, young Japanese animators are just seem to be copying animation done by great predecessors. I’d rather see bold experimentation with trial and error and taking inspiration from life than limiting themselves by copying others. Seeing tons of Sakuga MAD video is nice and all, but I wish that more animation sequence have unique expressive quality rather it’s just fancy movement with pizzazz. Also diversifying good animation to character acting, not just FX and action sequence.

    Sorry about my long-winded rant. You just brought up excellent points and I can’t help myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m reminded of a few of Peter Chung’s statements. He says that Western animators tend to become obsessed with the process of animating itself to the point that they ignore the shape of the final product. He’s also said that Western directors tend to sublimate their own desires and individuality for the purpose of pleasing the audience (hence why American animation writers often have strong opinions on “what the audience wants”). This combination of factors worked beautifully for the kind of broad, vaudeville-derived comedy that defined much of the Golden Age but in the modern world where tastes are both more balkanized and diverse, it’s not sustainable. The question “Why does animation matter at all?” is one that ought to be asked with greater frequency.

      Ironically anime has the opposite problem. Far too much anime is made By Otaku For Otaku, appealing to the dumbest personal desires of its makers with no attempt at wider appeal. This is why I see the West/East issue as a two way street. Both sides have a lot they could learn from the other.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Tamerlane!

        Loved the article! I’m sure you heard/read this from a credible source, but Brad Bird definitely didn’t board The Incredibles by himself. That film was boarded and re-boarded by an entire story team and versioned into several animatics along the way by a team of editors. Bird did write it, though. And he DID animate the Hogarth On Coffee sequence from The Iron Giant by himself.

        Anyway, just thought you should know!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! I’ll make that correction right away then. Thanks for the heads up!

        Like

  15. Nicholas Walstrom January 19, 2016 — 10:24 pm

    I think this is a very good article overall but for your statement that “you’d be hard pressed to find a Western animator praise an anime specifically for its craft, or even praise a non-Ghibli anime without caveat”. I’m sure you’ve seen Peter Chung mention on the AniPages forums that he got a very positive response to showing Lupin to people at Disney, and Yasuo Otsuka’s Joy in Motion mentioning that Ollie Johnston felt that Down Town was superior to Disney movies (boy would I love a closer to firsthand source on that one…)

    And of course there’s Lasseter’s uncontainable love for Ghibli, the commentary for Atlantis: The Lost Empire mentioning the inspiration of Castle of Cagliostro (and, say, didn’t Great Mouse Detective take some inspiration from the same movie?), GAINAX’s meeting with Pixar, Pixar hiring Imaishi to direct the fake Battlesaurs OP at Trigger rather than having it done at Disney…

    And if you look at those in the television animation industry rather than just Hollywood, the two-way admiration is even clearer. (And it certainly makes sense to, since so many television anime are mentioned in the article.) So much of American television animation clearly takes from Japanese anime. Usually mostly superficial elements that the staff members find cool, but for example Steven Universe often goes far beyond shout-outs to specific shows to having a cadence more like that of an anime. And you can see photos of Rebecca Sugar and Ian Jones-Quartey at Trigger, followed by caricatures of them in Little Witch Academia 2…

    There’s a lot of love for Japanese media from westerners involved in the animation process. The disrespect or disregarding of it is almost entirely on the part of critics who don’t do much animation themselves, people on the corporate side of production who leave the creative duties to other people, and the occasional salty curmudgeon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t completely disagree with this. The situation is getting better on both ends, and the more I reflect on it the polemical tone towards the end was perhaps a bit much. This last year I’ve become really frustrated by the provincial nature of animation scholarship. The rest of the arts are largely international (imagine a film critic who doesn’t recognize the name Takashi Miike or Hou Hsiao-hsien) while animation seems significantly more fractured. Not simply East v West but within the West, the Hollywood tradition v the artfilm tradition that Chris Robinson et al promote, and West v Eastern Europe, and so on. There’s too few generalists in animation.

      Still, a few things to note:

      Most praise of Ghibli I’ve seen from Western animators is rarely about the animation itself. I forget which Disney animator said Cagliostro was “90% layout” (Thomas?) but I think that captures the mentality towards anime well. It can be well-directed and well-written but never well-animated. Even major defenders of Ghibli like Michael Sporn have said things to the effect like “Spirited Away is the first time Miyazaki has attempted real character animation”. Not that there’s anything wrong with appreciating Ghibli films for their direction (they’ve made very many fantastic films after all) but their name is often deployed as an excuse not to engage with anime on a craft level. If Ghibli is the best anime can offer, then it’s not worth digging deeper.

      American TV is a different beast, true, but most American TV cartoons aren’t really American animation per se. Almost all of them have their keys outsourced to Korea with Americans only providing storyboard art and layouts. We could say that these anti-anime critics are all old codgers who can’t get with the times but many of these critics have valid points, know the history far better than the younger generation, and write with a seriousness that the anime fan world lacks entirely (with the notable exception of Ben Ettinger).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas Walstrom January 20, 2016 — 12:10 am

        Yeah, western TV animation is usually outsourced, but the overall look and feel is still closely controlled through the work done domestically, and bits of animation here and there are often done so as well. Based on their overall work you certainly can’t say Rebecca Sugar and Ian JQ aren’t animators. Same goes for Bruce Timm, who has been very lavish with his praise for TMS, and Kent Butterworth who praised Toei’s strong handling of effects animation and action scenes, and Don Bluth who considers Ghibli movies “full animation” rather than “anime” (all right, that last one still fits your point perfectly…)

        Anyway, there’s clearly a reason Masaaki Yuasa’s Adventure Time was animated by his own crew in Japan. Same goes for Imaishi’s opening for Black Dynamite. And of course Aaron McGruder switched to having The Boondocks animated by Madhouse when he got the chance.

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      • Speaking with you & others, I felt compelled to rewrite the conclusion a bit. I’m satisfied with how even-handed much of the article is so that polemicizing at the end looks particularly out of place. I’ll also concede American TV animation, esp after the 90s, is not my strong suit and some of the examples you provide I’ve never heard of before (got a link for those Bruce Timm and Kent Butterworth comments?)

        The situation is getting better, most def. But on the consumer and critical level these debates have barely occurred, so it feels like we’re a long way from where we need to be.

        Like

      • Nicholas Walstrom January 20, 2016 — 2:45 am

        See this interview with Butterworth, which is also very worthwhile for his comments on clashing with Groening’s direction on The Simpsons: http://johnpannozzi.blogspot.com/2008/07/all-about-kent-butterworth.html

        For Timm on TMS, look to his comments on the Batman episode “Feat of Clay: Part 2” (and if you haven’t watched the episode, you absolutely must; I guarantee you’ll be blown away). The following is excerpted from World’s Finest Online:

        Noted Timm, “I think when we shipped them ‘Clayface,’ they said to themselves: They think they know everything, but we’ll show them how do do this show. We’ll change Batman’s colors. We’ll do special color key treatments on the villains when they’re walking over the green vat. We’ll blow them away.’ If that’s their revenge, thank you for proving us wrong. I was so happy with that episode.” “The sequence where Daggett and Germs are walking over that green vat, those characters look like they’re three-dimensional. They look like they’re rotoscoped. When Daggett slowly turns toward the camera, the shadows really wrap around his face. It’s as if they’re real! They did all those colors themselves. We couldn’t even ask for those colors if we wanted to. They aren’t even in our palette. They had to specially mix those colors.”

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  16. so basically what the historians are saying is that they see the 12 principles of animation as law, and since anime doesn’t follow that (outside of key animation), they hate it. correct?

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  17. Where would you say Korean contractor animation fits in? (Like the animation for the Simpsons.) It seems like both old-school Western animators and sakuga fans are dismissive of it, but surely it is the most commercially successful style of animation? Both America and Japan outsource a bunch of work. I wonder if this is due to the unusual silence of Korean animators (other than maybe Studio Mir) on the usual social media sites?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just to be clear, I’m a Korean-American citizen who can read, write, and speak Korean.

      I don’t know about western animation fans, but there are some great Korean animators who are known to Sakuga fans. I think fans tend to notice Korean animators more when Korean animators ditch subcontract studio in Korea and establish themselves to bigger, well-known Japanese studios as key animator and/or Animation Director.

      Just like Japanese animators, many Korean animators don’t speak English and it’s up to individual fans to seek out information about them in Korean. How did certain anime creators got popular in the West? It was the fans who actively sought out Japanese animation artists of their favorite shows and putting them on spotlight. No matter how fluent that Korean animator’s English might be, it’s pointless when fans aren’t interested in his work. So if that Korean animator’s style or idiosyncrasy doesn’t click with Sakuga fans at large, then they’re not going to put his work in spotlight.

      In most cases, Korean names are shown in English on Anime end credits, so fans will eventually find out which Korean animator drew their favorite scenes. My new favorite Korean animator is, Han Seung-Ah, who was the animator for Osomatsu-San. I like her work because of her stop motion animation used in the ending credit.

      Even contracted Japanese animators themselves have hard time getting credited on their own country’s shows. Imagine what is like being a subcontractor in Korea. Only the subcontract company name will show up instead of individual names.

      As for Korean animation industry, let’s say that they still have a lot of problems as viable business and now Korean government is involved as well. Is it a good thing? I have mixed feeling about it because Japanese sold their cartoons to America without government help. Even with government help, the quality of their contents will not improve overnight as there are numerous obstacles to overcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. he he he by reading this, I’m sure you’ve already seen and got inspired by the ”Sakuga” series uploaded by Sean Bires on Youtube. I’m sharing his conference as much as I can to people so that they can truly recognize the ingenuosity and creativity that lies within signature-based animation.

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  19. Animation means to breath life into-. Back in the day when cave men blow-sprayed paint to make a hand negative. That was animation. Even still drawings can be animated. 1375-1425; late Middle English animat < Latin animātus filled with breath or air, quickened, animated (past participle of animāre). See anima, -ate1 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/animate

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  20. Thank you for a wonderful article. I’ve long wished someone would grapple with this subject thoroughly.

    I’ve not read all the comments you’ve received, so forgive me if I make points others have already made. I certainly understand the criticism that anime characters tend to be cyphers, with relatively limited expressiveness. But sometimes I think it’s more a matter of subtlety and naturalism in anime, rather than stock gestures and unexpressiveness. This is why there’s a whole genre called “slice of life” anime, an unimaginable category in mainstream Western animation. I derive great pleasure from Japanese animators depicting fleeting, subtle actions or gestures that may sometimes not even be narratively necessary. A character stumbling during a fast run. The way Chihiro puts on her shoes in Kamajii’s room. How Hana juggles two werewolf-toddlers in her tiny apartment.

    By contrast, Western animation — following the precedent set by Disney — tends towards to over-acting in my opinion. Disney feature animation (up to the present day) often seem to me to follow a Broadway musical style of acting — with ostentatious, easily-read gestures and a high level of caricature. I’m not saying this is wrong — I enjoy it as well and have an enormous respect for the animators’ skills — but a great reason why I enjoy Japanese anime is because it *doesn’t* take this approach to acting. And it’s something I would love to see more of in Western animation, but the likelihood of this seems slim. (The Illusionist is a good example, but obviously far from mainstream.)

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is a bizarre brain fart in an otherwise solid article:

    “Most of the time the ‘roles’ in anime are little more than stock archetypes or emblems of a particular social class, give or take a few distinguishing quirks. Even in serious productions like Miyazaki’s the animation rarely has specificity of character – any given Miyazaki heroine is interchangeable with any other. And when we’re able to be emotionally affected by what happens to a character or empathize with their situation, the acting is almost never the reason why. This is probably why anime characters are appealing to fanartists and fanfictionists; they’re nearly blank slates.”

    Utterly absurd and completely wrong, and seems like something written by someone who has never watched any anime and is only repeating things he’s heard about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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