This post is a look at anime 2012 from the perspective of the animation or ‘Sakuga’. There will no doubt be posts in the aniblogsphere that will take a look at the various ‘best’ shows, be it the best written, best music or a look at the voice actors but there are few if any that look at the animation.
I don’t have it in me to watch every single anime out there, I thought I’d ask a group of people what they thought of 2012 in terms of animation, that way we could cover a lot more content than a single person could. These people have kindly agreed to write a few words. I gave a few rough guidelines for topics to discuss, some have stuck to them while others have opted to discuss a singular topic in detail instead. Feel free to follow these guys on Twitter and on their blogs!
Episode – Eureka Seven AO #1, #2 and #24
These three episodes are without a doubt some of the top stuff you can see in TV animation. Not the most impressive TV episodes ever (hi Gurren Lagann, Star Driver, Atsushi Wakabayashi etc.), but I can hardly think of anything more impressive that aired this year. If you haven’t seen these eps already, find some free time and watch them. It’s worth it.
Show – Various shows
This is a hard one. There hasn’t been a show for the past year that has really stood out to me. Eureka AO had some great mecha animation, but also was really rushed thanks to the fucked up production schedule. Sword Art Online looks good, but not good enough to stand out. Shinsekai Yori is the same. Code:Breaker could also be a candidate with its pretty impressive effects, but other than that, it looks boring. I can’t pick a winner here.
Movie – Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos & A Letter to Momo
FMA stands out with its experimental and rough animation full of movements (check out a MAD here), while Momo is pretty much the best thing this year you can watch when you’re looking for some realistic animation.
1. Eureka Seven AO OP 2
2. Shinsekai Yori ED
3. Gundam AGE OP 3
Animator Discovery – Gosei Oda
Gosei Oda is an animator with really dynamic and rough drawings. I discovered him in the previously mentioned FMA movie, where he did some really impressive action animation. Then I found out he did some great scenes for Masayuki Miyaji’s Xam’d: Lost Memories and he also worked on his latest work – Fuse.
Unexpected Animation – Zetman
When I watched the trailer for this show I was like “It looks cool, but animation is gonna suck”. You can only imagine my face when I found out that Hisashi Mori, Jun Arai and Nozomu Abe worked on the first episode.
This year was a great one for “sakuga”. While there weren’t many impressive TV series’, the list of the movies that came out this year is pretty amazing. I really recommend you to watch the stuff I mentioned above and also the stuff some other “sakuga experts” thought that was impressive. To end my contribution here, I have to highlight Asura’s Wrath episode 11.5 directed by Shinya Ohira. This is a must see for every sakuga fan.
Biggest Surprise: Black Rock Shooter
When Hiroyuki Imaishi left GAINAX to form studio Trigger alongside Masahiko Otsuka and Kazuya Matsumoto, the furthest thing from my mind would be that Imaishi’s first directorial work for the studio would be CG animation. However, Imaishi (CG action director, storyboard, episode director) and fellow Trigger staff member Akira Amemiya (storyboard, episode director) followed in the footsteps of their idol Yoshinori Kanada, among others, and dabbled into CG animation in Black Rock Shooter.
Imaishi had incorporated a fair amount of CG work from studio SANZIGEN in Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, but he had not gone as far as actually being in charge of CG work to the extent that he did for BRS. At first, I believed that Imaishi was wasting his talent by serving as the action director on BRS. He’s already proven to be more than successful at making the transition from animator to director, so at the time I would have preferred to have seen him direct something in 2D.
However, the CG scenes in BRS are some of the finest work by Imaishi and Amemiya thus far. There are two big things that I believe make the whole ordeal work. The first is that for the vast majority of the time, there is no dialogue in the CG scenes. The script for the rest of the show is already ham-fisted with plenty of middle school melodrama as it is, so there’s no need for more of that here to drag it down. Therefore, the focus is more on what the CG can bring to the table by showing and not telling. Which brings me to the second big reason why the CG segments in BRS work—it doesn’t move like regular CG at all. The movement and frenetic pace in the animation is pretty much what you’d expect from a 2D work inspired by the Kanada style. The trademark stylistic flairs are still there and the overall pacing and presentation still manages to keep things interesting despite the otherwise weak story material.
I don’t believe that either Imaishi or Amemiya will start to focus more on CG animation than 2D overall. But given the typically poor output Japan has had when it comes to CG work, perhaps CG animators in Japan can take note what they were able to do in BRS and apply it going forward.
Runner up: Not a show, but an animator. After only working on 5 projects in the last 6 years as a key animator, Satoru Utsunomiya started doing CG work this year. He first worked on Kingdom and Next A-Class (the Mercedes-Benz commercial), before joining the computer animation studio I Love Computer Art (ILCA). Utsunomiya had previously received a lot of flack of his work (such as with Eureka Seven OP 3), but could the lack of fan acceptance of his style have been part of the impetus to leave 2D animation? Or has hand-drawn animation simply become too labor intensive as he’s gotten older? Hopefully he will elaborate on his reasons for becoming more involved with CG in the future (and that it gets translated too!).
Duckroll – [Twitter]
Favorite Series from 2012:
Fate/Zero – This series has really made a Ufotable fanboy out of me. I really enjoyed seeing how they approach the mix of digital and hand-drawn skill sets, and how in general the high quality output of the show itself. Knowing that a lot of the show was worked on by younger internal staff in the studio only makes it more impressive. Hopefully Ufotable continues to cultivate the talent they have and improve even more in future.
Favorite Movie from 2012:
Wolf Children – Definitely my favorite film from Mamoru Hosoda yet. A really sweet and concise tale about a mother’s struggles bringing up children with unusual needs, and it has some of the strongest and more mature direction from Hosoda yet.
Favorite OP from 2012:
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (My Little Monster) OP – I’ve grown to really love this opening with each passing episode. The music is upbeat and positive, but what’s really impressive is how perfect the visuals match up to the flow of the song. Really good stuff.
Eureka Seven AO OP1 – The first opening for this series is a great homage to the style and animation beats of the original Eureka Seven’s first opening animation, and it matches the song pretty well too. As a big Eureka Seven fan, it definitely did everything right as an opening.
Favorite ED from 2012:
Hyouka ED2 – The second ending for Hyouka is definitely the most creative and enjoyable ending sequence I’ve seen all year. Not only does it take the change to put the characters in awesome new costumes, but it also tells a story about the character relationships in the series in metaphor.
Favorite Episode from 2012:
Zetsuen no Tempest Ep3 – I’m a huge fan of Masahiro Ando’s work in Sword of the Stranger, so it was basically a dream come true to see him working with BONES again on an action series with high production values. This episode in particular really showcases Ando’s storyboarding talent for action. Great stuff all round. Probably the best action episode for TV anime in a long time.
Animator Discovery from 2012:
Takahiro Shikama – I wasn’t really familiar with Shikama’s previous efforts other than his design work on Star Driver, but with Sword Art Online this year he really got a chance to show off his skills. He handled the action animation direction for half the series (all the even numbered episodes), and even storyboarded and directed some episodes himself. His action animation definitely elevated the enjoyment in the series, and it had a really good sense of impact and motion in general. It was refreshing to see an animator I didn’t know much about get a chance to make a big contribution to a popular series, and hopefully that opens more possibilities for him in future.
Asura’s Wrath Episode 11.5 (PS3/360 DLC) – For a game which was done in full realtime 3D without any use of anime cutscenes, it was certainly surprising to see them announce that two of the DLC episodes would be full anime videos. This one was directed by Shinya Ohira, with some animation from Yasunori Miyazawa and Yoshimichi Kameda, among others. Truly a sakuga fest which I didn’t expect to suddenly appear.
Special Recommendations from 2012:
Minori Scramble! – This Ufotable OVA is a cute short story about a girl with a penguin phobia having to overcome it to bond with a cute robot penguin-girl. It’s silly, over the top, but extremely cute. It also has really nice hand-drawn animation (even vehicles!) and backgrounds.
Code:Breaker – I honestly didn’t expect this show to be anywhere as good as it is, but it’s definitely a testament to Yasuhiro Irie talent that he is able to write and direct an adaptation to a rather bad manga in such a fun and cheesy way. Yasunori Miyazawa being a regular animator on many of the episodes also helps!
AnimeBlue – [Twitter]
Episodes: Chikara#1 – #5 from Naruto Shippūden
There is really no surprise to anyone to see that the episode, I mean episodes that I found to be most impressive this year would come from Tsuruto [Naruto + Toshiyuki Tsuru]. Notably episode the first and fourth of the series. Which both were directed by Toshiyuki Tsuru himself. The first episode was nothing short of spectacular, solid drawing, fluid body movements and good bits of action you’d expected from Naruto all stars.
Like the first episode of Chikara, the fourth episode of Chikara contains some of the most detailed drawing and fluid movements that I have seen in Naruto. These episodes also delivered some interesting plot points, hardly surprising given Toshiyuki Tsuru was the one who was overseeing it. But unlike the first episode, the drama didn’t felt too dragged out and it was able to capture the essence of Naruto, while developing the characters that most people don’t really care about.
Overall, Chikara has been a delight to watch, both on a visual stand-point and script-wise. Which was pleasant surprise because the last time that Toshiyuki Tsuru was at the helm of something original in Naruto, it didn’t turn out all too well. With that said, Chikara surely seems like a product of what would happen if Tsuru directed another Naruto movie.
Show: Shin Sekai Yori
Throughout the year there have been a lot of great series that have had fantastic animation, from Tantei Opera Milky Holmes 2nd Act to Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai. But there seems to be only one series that has truly left a strong impression on me with it’s animation quality, even though it may not have the best animation out there. That is Masashi Ishihama’s adaptation of Yūsuke Kishi’s Shin Sekai Yori.
Shin Sekai Yori’s animation has it’s own unique feel with it use of muted color palette and various other stylistic filters gives that it an stylish artistic feel that contributes immensely to the disquieting atmosphere that Ishihama is trying to achieved in the series. The animation direction of Shin Sekai Yori seems to gives the animators more freedom to express and to create interesting movement and drawings, that enhance the storytelling through beautiful compositions and use of background animation here and there make it visually more appealing. Even though there have been times when the animation was bit messy.
The surprise of this year for me was certainly the ninth instalment of the Precure! series, in Izumi Todo’s Smile Precure! by Toei Animation. Despite having some noticeable staff members on aboard. I didn’t expect Smile to have solid animation because Suite Precure’s animation was mildly disappointing. I surely didn’t expect to see some very talented animators working on the series, like veteran animator Ken Ootsuka and Hercules animator Keisuke Watabe.
In particular I was impressed with episode 23 of the series. Where the girls faces off against Wolfrun, Red Oni, Majorina and Joker. The episode has some good showcasing of some excellent fighting sequences, notably Yuuichi Hamano and Naotoshi Shida.
During the course of this year, I’ve been going back and checking out some older episode of few series for an article that was I going to write, but ultimately trashing it because of unforeseen event. And during that time, there were three animators that made an strong impression on me with their distinctive and detailed effects animation. They are Shingo Tamaki, Ken’ichi Fujisawa and Toei’s Yuuichi Hamano. I’ll only be talking about one of them today since the other two are slightly more well known. (Although I have made MAD’s of all three)
The animator that I’ll talking about today is Shingo Tamaki. Presumably Shingo is an freelancer, who’s frequently been involved with Seven Arcs‘ projects and best known for his work on their Sekirei and Dog Days series. Tamaki began his career eight years ago working Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha where he seem to establish an good relationship with Shaft since he has appear on few others Shaft series shortly afterwords (ef: a tale of memories, Nisemonogatari).
His style has some striking characteristics. Such as his hair/effect animation that sorta looks likes an silhouette of an fox’s tail or the way his distortion effects looks likes someone just took an marker and just scribble with it.
Shingo Tamaki MAD:
Yuyucow – [Twitter]
Episode – #23/24 from Eureka Seven AO
It doesn’t have the consistent excellence of Hyouka’s best episodes or the sheer strength of Shikama’s action cuts in SAO, but as far as I’m concerned the double finale of AO was the most impressive display of animation this year. Many of BONES’ aces showed up to deliver top-notch mecha animation and what this show’s best at: Itano Circus!
Show – Hyouka
One of the best produced TV anime ever. An attention to detail almost unheard of, consistently great animation coupled with some outrageous cuts (see here) and extremely good art direction. Hyouka, as a whole, obliterated everything else.
Movie – A letter to Momo
Okiura outdid himself here, with some of the best character animation you’ll see in this medium topped with some magic cuts like Shinya Ohira’s. Wolf Children, Nijiiro Hotaru, K-ON and Blood-C The last dark deserve at least a mention, 2012 has been great as far as movies are concerned.
OP/ED – Shin Sekai Yori ED
Animator Discovery – Hiroko Utsumi/Miku Kadowaki
Kim Se Jun earned my respect with his amazing work on Gundam AGE, but the most interesting discovery’s got to be these two. Not only they’ve proved to be talented animators but also form a killer duo as episode director/AD, first in Hyouka and later on in Chuu2Koi. Animation Do’s growth can only mean great things for animation fans.
Unexpected Animation – Oda Nobuna no Yabou
Since YuruYuri/Milky Holmes’s occasional sakuga no longer qualifies as surprising I’ll have to go with Nobuna. Consistently strong production values with impressive action and cool choreography. To my surprise, the show was full of scenes like this:
Recommendation – Hironori Tanaka
I figured this would be a good chance to introduce someone to the general viewer, those of you who don’t pay attention to credit rolls. This is Hironori Tanaka, the omnipresent animator that’s brought his unique style and melting hair to dozens of shows this year. I’ll let animeblue’s video speak for itself:
Murad – [Twitter]
Show – One Piece: Episode of Nami
As a One Piece fan, I have to say that 2012 was a poor year for One Piece, but that’s until the last quarter when Toei decided to do a re-make of the Arlong Park Arc which blew me away with it’s quality. Yukiko Nakatani (Currently the best AD for One Piece) was pulled off the show to work on the special, and that was a perfect choice, IMO. I say this because her character designs are great, especially the young Strawhats, she is also very consistent when she does Animation Direction. The director of the OVA was Katsumi Tokoro, one of my favorite One Piece directors, and he has done a great job directing it. I was worried we would see another failure like One Piece Movie 8, where they tried to fit an entire arc into 2 hours. However I’m proud to say this OVA had better production values than Movie 8 (the remake of the Arabasta Arc) and it puts movie 8 to shame. I loved the fast paced action, thanks to work by animators to Kuroyanagi and Urata. They did a fantastic job. Not to forget this is one of the best arcs for One Piece, so watching it again in HD was the best thing Toei have done for One Piece in a while.
The One Piece anime took a hit during the Fishmen Island Arc thanks to this OVA, because Kenji Kuroyanagi and Yukihiro Urata did most of the Key Animation in the OVA, so the anime was left without any good Key Animators for a while. While it is true Shida and Tomita returned, but only to work once, which I found that very disappointing. The arc had some of the worst episodes in years, with only 2-4 key animators for some episodes. Which clearly implied Toei had a shortage of animators that were busy working on One Piece Film Z, Episode of Nami, Episode of Luffy, Glorious Island SP and the Romance Dawn Game with 30 min of new animation. It’s clear that Toei had their hands full.
Movie – A Letter to Momo
Hiroyuki Okiura returns with another amazingly animated movie, but with a different target audience this time around. Compared to his masterpiece Jinroh, I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the movie story-wise because I was certain this would have been a typical family movie – but I was wrong. Okiura managed to bring such a simple concept to life with realism & unbelievable attention to detail, that I found myself caring about the characters and what happens to them. The animation in this movie is gorgeous, the attention to detail and realism in movement is unbelievable, the movie was very consistent from the beginning to the end. Looking at the movie’s credits you can only see names of animation legends.
Runner Up-: Rainbow Fireflies
I’ve only seen scenes from this movie due to the lack of subs, but it seems to be one of the great sakuga movies for 2012, with a lot of Toei veterans working on it.
Runner Up:- One Piece Film Z
Best movie this year? Biased much? lol, I guess time will tell once it gets subbed. At least I know this will be a sakuga-fest, finally something to matched One Piece movie 6.
OP/ED – Jojo’s Bizarre adventure
It’s rare to see 3D CG being put to good use and in this opening it was used nicely. The textures were nice and I liked how they mixed-in the manga panels. The video effects were very cool as well, not to forget the song, which fits my own musical taste for shounen anime. In the end, I chose this as my favourite because it was different and I like different.
Animator Discovery – Yukihiro Urata
Most of the good One Piece animators I find have a slow start, it’s through the course of working on One Piece for a couple years that their style starts to develop, and thanks to the freedom given to the One Piece animators and the lack of consistency, everyone uses their own style. This animator used to work with Naoki Tate, you can see Tate’s influence on some of his scenes. I think he does a great job with action scenes, his FX animation is also good but sometimes inconsistent. Anyway, I hope to see him handle more serious stuff.
Unexpected Animation – Sanji Vs. Kurobee (Episode of Nami)
Kenji Kuroyanagi blew me away with his work here, I’ve always loved this fight and I’ve always hoped for it to get re-animated nicely, but I didn’t know that’s what Kenji is capable of if he had the time, this animator have improved a lot along the way, he has become one of the main animators for One Piece, they give him the most important scenes recently, and I must say that currently he is my favorite One Piece animator.
Runner Up:- Kan Ogawa working on One Piece
I didn’t expect Toei to use another studio to do a One Piece special. Episode of Luffy had a lot of notable animators, but Kan Ogawa caught my attention, he did the best part in the ep.
A recommendation – Letter to Momo, Rainbow fireflies, Episode of Nami and Hunter X Hunter.
“A new Lupin III TV show designed for an adult audience, starring Fujiko, directed by Sayo Yamamoto and with designs by Takeshi Koike? Awesome! I mean, sure, Mari Okada is writing it, and she’s a bit of a controversial figure… but you can’t really screw up Lupin, can you? All you need to do is come up with some wacky episodic story ideas, and then make sure they’re executed in an entertaining enough way. Writing Lupin doesn’t require any kind of literary genius so, what could possibly go wrong?”
…Well, a lot did. The team decided to bite off more than they could chew and attempt to make a darker, more serious Lupin full of literary allusions and a shoujo-esque art style. The story tried to deliver a straight-faced message to the audience, but it just came off as heavy-handed and pretentious, almost as if it intentionally shot itself in the foot. The instances of typical Lupin silliness felt like extremely out-of-place attempts at comic relief. It featured some rather impressive and stylish use of visuals. but even that was held back by the low budget of the show and its rushed production. Not only was it a slide-show most of the time, but sometimes the animators obviously didn’t even know how to draw the characters right. Not even Takeshi Koike himself could fix everything in the final episode.
All of this is worsened by Yamamoto’s attempt to pander to old audiences by claiming that this series aimed to bring the feel of a true Monkey Punch manga to an anime, when it couldn’t possibly be more different. If you want a “pure Monkey Punch” anime, complete with very offensive sexual humor, super-cartoony drawings and a fast pace, look no further than the very underrated Monkey Punch no Sekai: Alice.
Also far more “Monkey Punch-esque” than Fujiko (and, hell, perhaps every other Lupin anime incarnation out there art-wise) is Yuzo Aoki’s Lupin III Pink Jacket series. Its often-reviled yet criminally under-appreciated style is showcased brilliantly in this opening. The song kicks ass too.
2012 was a downer for me. Not because I was disappointed with any sort of quality in Japanese animation, there always will be new face to discover and discuss. But my favorite studio GAINAX his going through difficult times since Hiroyuki Imaishi left. That’s fine for him launching his new studio TRIGGER for which we are still waiting for some worthy project to be announced but that should come in 2013, I hope them success. But he had to drain Gainax of all its talent from Sushio to You Yoshinari… then it wasn’t enough, he had to take in the younger generation I had an eye on, mainly those close to the doujinshi circle Atmosphere: Mai Yoneyama, Shuhei Handa & Shota Iwasaki. No one will blame them, they are working with You Yoshinari on Little Witch Academia which will be released in march next year.
The pillars of the animation staff are gone… inbetweeners have left and gone to studio Khara. There’s little left at Gainax but they are still hard at work on Medaka Box but you can certainly see the drop of quality between seasons 1 & 2.
Still, I’m hopeful. It will take time, probably years, but if the heads at GAINAX don’t give up they shall rise again. They just need a worthwhile project that will bring new talent from outside. Their next projects will be 3 originals that might help.
Talking about Heads, the revelation of this year is Masao Maruyama’s new studio MAPPA. I want to salute him for always mixing things up between commercial endeavours and more substantial projects. He did bring us Satoshi Kon’s movies and I want to believe he will be able to find help to finish his last work Yume Miru Kikai.
But for now he brought back Shinichiro Watanabe. If there’s only one TV show to watch from 2012 it’s Watanabe’s Sakamichi no Apollon. As expected he delivered with his directing talents. Like a great film maker, the first episode he handled shows his craftsmanship with storyboard and composition. You know he don’t go easy on his staff providing them with easy picture to translate on the final product. A prime example would be the fist fight on the roof top on that same 1st episode, where Sentaro fights in some form of “single” medium shots intercut with close-ups of Kaoru’s surprised face and a little rotating camera for the dramatic effect. What he gave us here was choreography you can actually read. But that’s not all the show has to offer, there’s a great jazzy soundtrack, Watanabe has taste for music, remember he was also music producer on Mind Game or in this year Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. It is good for us Shinichiro Watanabe won’t take a break, he is coming in 2013 with Space Dandy at studio Bones… and will come back later with another show at MAPPA.
I have to also highlight the solo work by Kazuto Nakazawa on the Opening, the master behind Samurai Champloo’s character designs, the one who can always pull some amazing visuals when working on a short piece.
A finishing note on Sakamichi no Appolo, thank you for the nice opportunity that was given to one of our fellow sakuga fan / animator Bahi JD to work on episode 7 as a key animator. Did his animation clash with the rest with its fullness and liveliness of movement? Maybe it was too much for the audience, apparently some fans could tell it was not animated by a Japanese person.
Kraker [That's me!]