An anticipation, often shortened to “antic,” is an animated motion that telegraphs the next one. Antics are used for clarity and punctuation. A classic example is a character drawing back before she dashes out of the scene, as shown in the following image from Little Witch Academia.
Another good example is a baseball player winding up for a swing: in the clip below (from K-On!!), the girl twists back, moving her bat in the opposite direction of where it is about to go. Her eyes and pose are also aimed towards the right, leaving no doubt as to where the ball is about to approach from. This prepares the audience for the main swinging action, making it feel natural and less abrupt.
A secondary technique shown in this clip is an “overshoot.” The girl swings past her intended target, and the momentum stretches out her arms and carries the bat past the edge of the screen. The purpose of an overshoot is to increase the distance from the antic pose. The more space an action covers in a short span of time, the more visual impact it will have. After overshooting, she “settles” into her final pose, completing the series of movements.
Not every action needs an antic. Slow or small movements can be clearly read without preparatory poses. You can also have a “suprise gag” when a big action occurs without an antic, or when the action is different from what the antic lead the viewer to expect. In the clip below (from Urusei Yatsura), a character’s head suddenly expands, startling the other characters as well as the audience.
Good animators will vary the types and sizes of anticipations depending on the character, action, and situation. If used the right way, the antic itself can be just as entertaining as the main action. The images below show a very cartoony antic—Akko scrunches up her entire face and body to anticipate an angry outburst, and then she erupts past the top of the screen—only to smash her head into the top of the bunk bed.
Antics can also make actions look smoother by relating them to the previous drawings. Without antics, actions may feel jarring and “staccato.” The following clip from Noburō Ōfuji’s Kokoro no Chikara (1931) has a character dashing off the screen with no antic at all (to be fair, there are well-placed antics throughout the rest of the film).
According to Frank and Ollie, one of Walt Disney’s first orders of business was to correct the “abrupt and sudden” movements in early animation. He initially used the term “aiming,” as in the characters aiming their limbs or bodies in the direction of the next action. The Disney studio wasn’t the first to use aiming/antics—they can be seen at least as far back as the early 1920’s Felix the Cat films—but Disney’s late 20’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts display much more frequent and obvious antics than other cartoons of that period. They codified the technique into an animation rule. By the mid-30’s, the Disney cartoons had some type of antic for nearly every action. The other American animation studios soon followed suit.
In Japan, anticipations can be found as early as 1931 in Yasuji Murata’s Oira no Yakyuu (being a baseball cartoon, there are naturally antics in the pitcher and batter’s actions). However, as with squash and stretch, early anime never used antics to the extent that Disney did. Films like Noburo Ofuji’s Chinkoroheibi and The Treasure Box (1936), while clearly inspired by Disney, show only a basic level of anticipation. This seems to have continued up to World War II (though Masao Kumakawa was a major exception).
After the war, Nihon Dōga Eiga (i.e. Toei Doga) established itself as Japan’s best Disney imitator and accordingly implemented many of its principles, including antics. Kappa Kawatarou (1954) features some fun cartoony anticipatory poses, though some of the action in the film still looks choppy.
By the late 50’s, Toei’s “Disneyesque” style reached its peak. While it never took the concept of antics as far as Disney did, it reached a level of polished full animation that has rarely been surpassed in Japan since. The clip below from Kitty’s Studio (1959) shows several anticipations being used to convey various attitudes and movements. Note how the samurai-playing mice have quick and subtle antics, whereas the cat’s antics are relatively slow and broad.
Like squash and stretch, anticipations are somewhat of a luxury in that they are most useful in the context of full animation. The relentless grind of television in the early 60’s meant that anime had to resort to cost-saving shortcuts like lower framerates and cycles. As the same drawings were on the screen longer, antics were no longer necessary for clarity. Instead, they became almost exclusively used for visual punctuation. The following clip from Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (1963) demonstrates an antic in very limited animation.
However, unlike squash and stretch, antics have enjoyed ample usage in modern anime. Occasionally they are used for cartoony exaggeration or acting, but they are most often an essential element of fight and action scenes. This cut from One-Punch Man (by Gosei Oda) has antics that are both powerful and comical; portraying the immense force of the gargantuan monster’s fist by having it draw back far up into the sky.
Next week: Staging!
Thank you again for this excellent series of articles! I didn’t know the first thing about antics, but this makes so much sense. It’s interesting how many things there are the typical viewer never thinks about or consciously notices.