A look at the ‘sakuga’ and animation of 2014

AnimeBlue – [Twitter]

Favorite Piece of animation from 2014:
This year there were hardly any shows that left a lasting impression on me animation wise, aside from Space Dandy that is. Which is kinda disheartening honestly. With that said there were some nice shorts from the Animator Expo series that managed to grab my attention. Notably Takeshi Honda’s entry, Nishi-ogikubo. Every cut is filled with so much energy that will makes me fall in love with animation all over again. Not to mention the compositions and layouts were also very beautiful.
OP – NARUTO Shippuden OP#16
NARUTO Shippuden OP#16 is a well crafted classic Naruto OP by the young duo of Gorou Sessha & Masayuki Kouda, that feature kick-ass action animation by Norio Matsumoto and Naoki Kobayashi. Centrally it’s episode #322 in opening form.
Honorable Mentions – Ping Pong OP:
The opening for Ping Pong is probably the best opening animation wise, but for me it looses some points for that small rotoscoped scene by Ohira himself 😦
ED – Sora no Method ED
It’s the ‘walking ending’ done right, every bit of movement has weight to it, which really feels natural.
Honorable mentions – Barakamon ED
The Barakamon ED is really well crafted ending from the webgen kids.
Episode – NARUTO Shippuden #375
Naruto Shippuden #375 is the third episode that’s storyboarded & directed by Hiroyuki Yamashita. Like previous premiere episodes of Naruto, it has what you expect from it: fantastic artwork, well choreographed fights with a variety of well-timed moves from the characters. The excellent directing enhances the storytelling, for example when adult Obito stopped young Obito from doing the unison, but what set it apart from other cool fighting episodes this year, like Noragami#12, is Yamashita managed to create something that I’ve only seen Atsushi Wakabayashi do with his episodes.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso#05
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso#05 is a two man team composed of the OP god, Masashi Ishihama and the rising star, Takashi Kojima. Together they’ve created a very rich and atmospheric episode that played off the series’s strength which helps to put you right with the characters.
Kojima’s impressive animation makes everything feel so much more than simple drawings as the characters bounce right off the screen. In particular these cuts here:
Booru #1 & Booru #2

Overall, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso#05 is a completely different beast when compared to the rest of series altogether in terms of both directing and animation. I highly recommend everybody to watch it.
Honorable Mentions – Yozakura Quartet ~Tsuki ni Naku~#03:
After the disaster that was the second episode, Ryo-timo and the boyz are back with another marvelous kick-ass action episode that will get your blood boiling. Surprisingly enough Shingo Yamashita is nowhere to be found!
Animator Discovery – Naoki Kobayashi:
The animator that has caught my attention this year has to been the newbie from Studio Pierrot, Naoki Kobayashi. Who is slowly becoming what Hiroyuki Yamashita was to Naruto in Shippuden’s early days and what Norio Matsumoto was to the original Naruto. The best way I can describe this style is to take kid Yamashita, kid Yutapon and add everything else nice. These are the ingredients to make:

Unexpected Animation – Haikyu!!
In all honestly, I didn’t expect this show have really impressive animation on a consistent bases. Especially when almost every sports manga adaptation up this point this was your typical run of the mill adaptation that only has nice animation on rare occasions. Haikyuu’s processor KuroBas was plagued with production issues as well. However Haikyuu’s even had people like Toshiyuki Inoue, Tetsuya Takeuchi and Tokuyuki Matsutake working on it.

duckroll – [Twitter]

I’d like to mention a number of different episodes from various shows this year.
Space Dandy definitely comes to mind when we think of “sakuga” this year, and the final episode certainly had a huge collection of animation showpieces – but the episodes which impressed me most in the series would be #16 (directed by Masaaki Yuasa) and #21 (directed by Yasuhiro Nakura). The former is particularly memorable for an extended sequence by Shinya Ohira which was simply breathtaking. The latter has really unique art direction even by the series’ standards, which were brought to life with great layouts and background design.
Another series which some outstanding action animation would be Wizard Barristers. While the show quality itself leaves much to be desired, and was hardly consistent in terms of production values, episodes #1, #8, and #11 in particular had some really special sequences. Complex scenes with heavy effects and character action which are impressive to look at even without any story context. The first episode in particular has an opening scene piece which might well be one of the more ambitious action sequences for TV anime. A word of caution though, those interested in checking the show out should avoid the broadcast version as it wasn’t completed in time. The home video version is the only way it should be watched.
Rage of Bahamut Genesis also deserves a mention for the really high production values and sleek direction. In particular the earlier episodes #1, #4, and #5 have really good character movement and smart choreography which makes the visuals really exciting. There is a lot of detail in the motion and the designs, and well executed camera work.
Noragami – It’s probably boring to mention Space Dandy again, since everyone else is probably going to be talking about it anyway, so I’ll talk about this instead. For a short adaptation of an ongoing manga with an anime original conclusion, I enjoyed it a lot. The production quality was very consistent, and there was some really impressive animation towards the end, but what really elevated the show was the evocative direction and great use of music. There was a sense of real care put into making it feel more than just a standard animation, but a work which can be appreciated and enjoyed on its own.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Anyone who likes animation and hasn’t seen it should go see it now. Anyone who has seen it will probably understand why it is so special.
Ping Pong OP& the Garo OP

ED: Yama no Susume S2 ED1

Animator Discovery – Sakiko Uda (宇田早輝子)
Not a new animator, but one I was unfamiliar with previously. It was interesting to learn that she was responsible for a number of nice scenes in the Gundam Build Fighters series. Always nice to discover good mecha animators I didn’t know about before.
Unexpected Animation – Yama no Susume 2 #13
Lots of great character animation and a number of different art styles applied in various flashback and dream sequences. Really nice animator line up.
Animator Expo #6 – The entire Animator Expo project is an unexpected surprise, but this one takes the cake. Some of the best character animators in the industry are brought together for a short film with almost no dialogue, choosing to tell the entire story through exciting visual interactions. The best sort of Unexpected Animation.
Ping Pong – The show itself might have been made on a shoestring budget, but it still remains the best anime series I’ve watched this year. The designs, the art style, the way the adaptation was paced out, and the character journey for the cast makes it one to remember for a long time. More of a character study than a sports anime, I felt the show really had something worthwhile to say.

ponkts – [Twitter]

Episode – Space Dandy #16
To be honest, I could fill the most of my recommendations with Space Dandy this year but that was not quite good enough. So if I had to choose one episode from the entire show, it would be this one. Even with all his experience, Ohira will probably continue to progress. What shocked me the most was how the water effects looked like a blazing fire. I’ve been a sakuga fan for a long time and have never seen such overwhelming, breathtaking water.
Seitokai Yakuindomo* #01
Contrary to what you might think, this judo match scene was one of my favourites. What drew my attention was the use of various camera angles and interesting camera work. Please take a look at this shot, her hand stretching outside the frame has an uplifting feeling, what’s more, the amount of blur changes in response to the focal length or zoom position. This spuriously enhances the realistic sensation of the fighting. I like other minute motions too. The characters successfully harmonizing with the background are also look amazing.
Wizard Barristers #01 – See: Booru #1, Booru #2 and more.
I had been looking forward to watching the first episode of this show. There were a lot of superb action and effect scenes notwithstanding the evil Tokyo MX noise that mercilessly killed these scenes when they aired. Of course the Blu-ray version was jim-dandy. Ironically Nozomu Abe’s overwhelming animation and Japan’s TV broadcasting standards are often incompatible. I usually travel to work on this green train (the Yamanote Line) and I’m annoyed it’s jam-packed with people, so the fighting scenes and the train eventually going up in flames felt exhilarating and made me feel quite excited haha!
Show – Barakamon
I selected Barakamon in terms of my general impression. I was very happy watching that every week. It doesn’t have a lot of “sakuga moments” but the characters including little Naru are very lively and full of life. Coincidentally one of the show’s Animation Directors, Kikuko Sadakata, is from the Goto-retto Islands where this show is set, which made me happy. Plus I love how the water effects are drawn – from black ink to the seawater; the former is partly used to represent the main character Handa’s gloomy personality withdrawing into his shell, the latter is an easy openness the people around him indicate.
Honorable Mention – SHIROBAKO
SHIROBAKO is not a ‘sakuga show’ but a show about animation production process that includes ‘sakuga’. You might be surprised to know that because of this show, Japanese Otaku who often don’t care about animation quality have come to change their minds. In popular Japanese online communities such as 2ch, Twitter and infamous blogs like Yaraon there was a tendency among some people to make fun of and laugh at poor quality animation caused by delays in schedules. However SHIROBAKO has enlightened them by depicting the whole animation production process. I think that this turnabout is pleasing for all sakuga fans, who are a minority group in the grand scheme of things. In addition to that, at the end of this year, animation master Toshiyuki Inoue himself animated part of the story within a story, that was outstanding. I was expecting him to show up because he has been friends with P.A. WORKS for a long time now. These long interviews P.A. Works have had on their website from almost 10 years ago are like the Bible for anyone who likes to watch or create works related to sakuga.
Unexpected Animation – Maido! Urayasu Tekkin Kazoku #01
Examples: Booru #1, Booru #2
As I’ve said above, I expected to see Inoue’s animation in SHIROBAKO, but I didn’t expect to see great animation by Shinya Takahashi in this comedy anime. Takahashi is one of the veritable super animators in Japan. Sakugabooru has 16 posts of his works in various shows at the time of writing this entry, most of them I uploaded though. Although Hotori’s dancing in the SoreMachi OP is primaliry based on my presumption, but I think the elastic motion that requires grasping accurate muscular movement needs a great deal of technical skill and must be something that no one other than Takahashi can do. By the way, I checked the storyboard included in YASUOMI UMETSU KEY ANIMATION DRAWING 9 in which Umetsu gives directions to draw “可愛く芝居。” which means to ‘perform cutely’. Yeah, cuteness is justice.
When it comes to cuteness, another of Takahashi’s works this year includes Yuzu’s dancing sequence and Shizuku’s snowballing scene in Sakuga Trick Sakura Trick. This one also surprised me.
Very impressive stuff, isn’t it? It probably makes you realize that not only is he good at drawing crisp movements but also slow, sinuous ones as well. Especially this shadow show on the floor is one of my favorite scenes. Back to Urayasu Tekkin Kazoku, what surprised me the most was, in fact, his ability to animate even mecha like vehicles! Those wonderful background animation scenes just shows what a perfect animator Takahashi is!
Animator Discovery – Masayuki Nonaka, Ryoma Ebata, Takashi Kojima – Takahiro Shikama
Sorry, I intended to give this award to the young animators, but I confirmed this year that Shikama reached… the stage of perfection.
See also: Booru #1 & Booru #2

Kraker2k – [That’s me!]

Episode – Unicorn Episode #7
I’m going to be a little sneaky and mention this since it was released in 2014. This is the grand climax Sunrise St1 has been reaching for ever since Unicorn began back in 2009. It features some rich mecha and effect animation work from the diligent Sunrise animators. From the effect work of Hidetsugu Ito, to the equisite montage from Shuko Murase. Though the real star of this episode is the immensely detailed scenes by Hirotoshi Takaya:
I was curious as to where Takaya had been for over a year, ever since Saint Seiya Omega #51 back in 2013. It turns out he was tirelessly working away on this 3 minute sequence. The immense detail in the mecha and effects is truly amazing. Often when it comes to mecha, sacrificing detail must come at the cost of having better movement, but Takaya created something that keeps the great detail in each and every frame, all the while imbuing it with his personal timing and touch. I always knew Takaya was a great animator but I never knew he had something like this in him. When Unicorn was being planned, the producer and director insisted the animators keep away from ‘flashy’ animation, hinting at the styles employed on the Brave mecha series or Gundam SEED. I find it a little ironic that the person who draws some of the best cuts in #7 is Takaya who is very much one of the iconic animators from the Brave mecha shows.
OP/ED – Garo OP / Barakamon ED
As others have mentioned these in quite detail I won’t go on about them too much, but out of most of the 2014 OP/ED works these two really stood out.
Animator Discovery –
1. Aito Ohashi – This is a young animator who has a great sense for kinetic Kanada-ish animation, his effects have quite an electric feel to them. I first took notice of him on an episode of Build Fighters s1 which featured some simple but interesting FX work, I didn’t connect it to a name until his work on episode 15 of the show. He was attached to studio TNK as one of their primary action animators until recently when he went freelance. His work on Pokemon, Daimidaler and Akame ga Kill is really exciting to watch. Interestingly on his most recent Akame work, he was given free reign to draw his own layouts, resulting in some promising action scenes. I look forward to seeing more of his work in 2015.
2. Sakiko Uda – This lady has been working hard at Sunrise the last few years, notably on both seasons of Build Fighters. Kim definitely carried season 1 but with his departure I think it’s Uda who has carried season 2 so far. She did some excellent work on s1 as well, but with no Kim on s2 her work shines even more now. She’s a hard worker and often draws the most animation each episode she works on, almost all of it being stellar to boot. She loves playing about with impact frames and sneaking in odd images here and there. As a female animator that excels at mecha, especially in the current age, she is a rarity in the industry.
Recommendation – Animator Expo #6, Shirobako
As people have mentioned, the 6th Animator Expo is truly an amazing short. Some of the top animators in the industry just being given free reign to parade their talents and show you why they are considered the top.
Shirobako simply because it shows you the the animation industry inside and out, portraying how hard the creators work in order to bring you episodes of anime each week.

There you have it, that’s 2014 done and dusted. What a wonderful year it’s been. We have had 3 great animator showcases from Space Dandy and Yama no Susume to Animator Expo which is still on going. These projects have allowed the animators to run wild and free. I am hopeful more projects like this appear next year as its always great seeing these talented people being free from the shackles of sponsors and being allowed to stretch their abilities across the medium.

There are some interesting shows on the horizon like Kekkai Sensen from BONES, Little Witch Academia 2 from Studio Trigger and Project Itoh. Though the show I’m most thankful for is no doubt Shirobako, as it has introduced the average fan to just how much hard work goes into anime production. Thanks for reading and feel free to drop your own comments and let us know what your favourites from 2014 were!
The Isobel Prize

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10 Responses to A look at the ‘sakuga’ and animation of 2014

  1. vinhnyu says:

    End of year tradition:
    – Watch TV
    – Go to shrine
    – Read about this year’s sakuga

  2. Crofesima says:

    I’d like to take this chance to thank you all for, well… basically existing (as creepy as it may sound). I’ve learned A LOT about animation this year and it’s all thanks to the sakuga community 🙂 I appreciate your patience and willingness to share knowledge. Oh, and of course big thanks to Kraker for this entry – it was a fantastic read.

    And while we’re at it – Happy New Year!

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  4. Mayo says:

    Very interesting read, I love all the cuts you posted from the sakuga website. I wish I knew all these Animator’s names. I need to work on that. Is there a place I would be able to find the key animator list for certain episodes?

    • Henry says:

      Try Sakuga@wiki.
      It’s a Japanese wiki site, but they’re the main source of animator information.

    • Kraker2k says:

      In English there is little to go by. You can try to use AnimeNewsNetwork’s staff database but they don’t organise their data very well.
      The sakugabooru often notes the animator’s name on the left hand side in yellow.
      The sakuga@wiki is a good source but it’s in Japanese only: http://www18.atwiki.jp/sakuga/
      There’s also the ‘Anime Staff Database’ that is a community edited Japanese wiki, but focuses more on modern shows: http://seesaawiki.jp/w/radioi_34/
      Hope that helps!

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