Hello and welcome to the wonderful yearly tradition where we talk about how great the “sakuga” was in 2015. This post will focus on the 2D animation output and quality coming from Japan over this past year.
For those that are uninitiated, anime fans have come to use the word ‘sakuga’ to refer to moments where great looking animation shines through, be it on a TV show, movie or OVA. In Japanese the word ‘sakuga’ simply means ‘animation’ but by virtue of it being used often in discussions of ‘good animation’ the word ‘sakuga’, at least among western fans, has come to take on a new meaning that almost always means ‘good animation’.
Like last year I have extracted thoughts from several sakuga fans around the world. I gave them some criteria, a rough word limit and
bullied asked them for their thoughts, picking out any kind of highlights and personal favourites from 2015. Most of the categories are pretty self explanatory. This year has a record number of contributions from a whopping 15 people! So tighten those belts and dive in after the jump!
Ashita – [Twitter]
Episodes – Various
Let’s be honest; picking any of One-Punch Man’s episodes, especially the 12th one, feels like cheating, as it has been the only pure “sakuga” show of the year. So I’ll refrain from doing it. Instead I’ll mention three different episodes that stood out in my opinion. Maybe they aren’t a sakuga fest, but I liked them nonetheless:
Death Parade #11 – I really loved Onna’s ice-skating scenes. The camera work is really interesting; with lots of zooming in and out using Onna’s limbs as guidelines. The choreography is beautifully staged and there is a good attention to details like fabric or hair that conveys a realistic feel to her movements. There are also some nicely timed smears that help the movement to accelerate and move forward when necessary. Add the music they used and you get a stunningly gorgeous episode. I can only praise Takeshi Kojima and Izumi Murakami for their work in this chapter; they stole the show with their sequence.
Rolling Girls #8 – While being a production roller coaster, Rolling Girls achieved some great episodes and the 8th one is without doubt the best in my opinion. Arifumi Imai was the action animation director and this only can mean good. The episode ended with the highest note of any anime this year, the concert scenes are still burned on my eyes. If I had to choose one cut as the chapter’s representative, it would be Imai’s. This year he has had so much fun further developing his special effects; now they are so colourful (mainly because the other anime aren’t as monochromatic as Attack on Titans), imaginative and simply fun. He is enjoying the ride and so am I.
Go! Princess Precure #1 – Although the show has had various highlights during its run, I can still recall Shingo Fujii’s scene on the first episode as one of the most impressive animations of the year. I’ll welcome any of Naotoshi Shida’s transformation scenes with open arms. Nishiki Itaoka being the huge Precure nerd he is he couldn’t miss the series premiere either.
Series – One-Punch Man
Last year the absolute winner in this category was Space Dandy, there is no competition either this year. One-Punch Man wins with a called game at the fifth inning, no other staff has delivered the goods as well as Shingo Natsume & co. Having Yoshimichi Kameda, Sejoon Kim and Gosei Oda as recurring animation directors (or action animation directors) is simply assuring that the show will be spectacular. Though it’s worth mentioning how they have let lots of newbies go wild. Under Kameda & co’s tutelage we have discovered some raw talents such as Toshi Sada, Shuei Handa, Kai Ikarashi (these two were actually trained by Yoshinari at LWA), Toya Oshima and Gen Asano (studio Khara newcomers).
One-Punch Man is a good example of how good animation can carry a somewhat lagging show in other aspects like storyboards, colour settings or background music.
Movie – When Marnie Was There
Last year in these series of articles people were talking about Kaguya, so I guess it’s safe to talk about When Marnie was there now. Seriously go watch it. The water work is wonderful and being a character-driven film it’s the perfect playground for some animators as Okiura, Hashimoto, Tanaka or Honda. Ghibli never lets us down.
Opening – Various
Surprisingly there have been lots of good openings this year that really stood out for me, but if I had to pick a few they would be:
Yoru no Yatterman – Shun Enokido and Ryu Nakayama showcased all the webgen’s strong points in a single opening.
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin’s OP2 – It didn’t generate a lot of talk because when it aired people had already dropped the show or preferred the first OP, but for me it is clearly a winner worthy enough of being mentioned in this post. The opening was outsourced to studio Science Saru and Eun Young-choi directed and storyboarded it. Animation-wise maybe it doesn’t really have any flashy highlight parts, but it’s stylish as hell and all the animation was drawn by Flash. If Yuasa’s studio can keep producing this level of work we might get a great movie this upcoming year(s).
The Perfect Insider OP – It really surprised me; it’s been a long time since I have seen such a good use of rotoscope.
Unexpected Sakuga – Various
All the sakuga shows this year were called from miles away, so rather than finding some surprising shows, we have had to be content stumbling onto some unexpected sakuga scenes.
Lupin III (2015) #11 – Ohira’s appearance in the eleventh episode was really unexpected. It was a nice surprise to find this hidden gem in Lupin, the show is consistent but I had already lost all hope of seeing some sakuga in it (especially after Shinji Hashimoto’s let down it the second episode).
Aikatsu #159 – Imaishi’s return to a kids show; he couldn’t keep himself from drawing robots! Incidentally this episode also had some great cuts animated by Takeshi Morita.
Mikagura Gauken Kumikyoku #4 – Hisashi Mori doing a “Kanada Horse” in a completely under the radar anime? Talk about unexpected. This show had some pleasant fights in the four first episodes and then utterly crashed.
Recommendation – Hibike Euphonium
Kyoto Animation is a studio that consistently produces gorgeous anime and Euphonium is the latest gem to come from the studio.
Also sakuga is dying so don’t waste your time and effort trying to learn more about it.
Animator Discovery – Tatsuya Miki (三木達也)
Originally an Artland animator, Miki has been around for a decade or so, but was his role in Concrete Revolutio that picked up my interest in him as he delivered good cuts in various episodes. This year he definitely stepped up his game (roughly half of his booru uploads are from this year’s shows). He also seems a fast worker, because meanwhile working in lots of episodes in ConRevo, he basically appeared everywhere else in the same season, including One-Punch Man.
He seems to embrace digital animation and I certainly like his bombastic effects. His explosions are still a bit rough around the edges but the rest of his effects are really nice. Miki also has proved himself as a character animator, ranging from a more cartoony style to some more nuanced and subtle character acting.
Animeblue – [Twitter]
Overall 2015 Favourite: Boruto The Movie
My favourite piece of animation this year would definitely be the new Naruto movie that came out this year. It had some really well animated character animation and some of best fight choreography that I’ve seen this year. In particular Norio Matsumoto’s cut that started in the last act of the movie where the Gokage battled Momoshiki/Kinshiki to Naruto & Sasuke fighting Momoshiki.
Honorable Mentions – Robot on the Road, The Ultraman
Series – Various
Just like the previous year there was no one show that really stood out to me. Even though there were some strong contenders like One Punch Man, Kekkai Sensen, THE IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, Yoru no Yatterman, Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works and Hibike! Euphonium. However all of the series that I just named felt like they were missing something that put ut above the rest. For example One Punch Man had most raw animation power out of them, but it left me wanting to see much better fight choreography from it.
While Kekkai Sensen and Hibike! Euphonium have some of the best cinematography that I’ve seen this year, the shows were not polished enough to make me put it above the rest. That said I do recommend One Punch Man’ and Hibike! Euphonium the most.
Episode: Yoru no Yatterman#12 (BD version)
Instead picking the episodes that had the best cinematography and all action around. The episode I decided to go with is the episode that might had become everyone’s favourite if it completed on time.
Every shot of Yatterman episode #12 was masterly done with care. You can easily tell they wanted to express the identity of characters by their movement. I like these scenes here, with the melancholy (probably not right word to use) atmosphere that connected you to animator’s emotion and sorrow of characters.
Not to mention that fight between Tonzra and one of Generals was choreographed very well.
Honorable Mentions: Monster Musume no Iru Nichijō #12, Rolling Girl s#01/#02, K: Return of Kings#01
All of them feature some fantastic camera work and gorgeous FX animation.
Honourable Mentions: NARUTO Shippuden OP#18
This opening by Hiroyuki Yamashita tells us the current wishes and state of mind of two young protagonists. This opening features animation by Norio Matsumoto, Naoki Kobayashi, Tetsuya Nishio, Hiroyuki Yamashita and others.
Ending – NARUTO Shippuden ED#33
My favourite ED from 2015 would have to be NARUTO Shippuden ED#33 by Tatsuya Koyanagi, even though its doesn’t have the best animation or the best art. The story its tell with its visual was done quite nicely
Animator Discovery – Ryu Nakayama, Shun Enokido, Tatsuya Satou
‘Discovered’ won’t be the right word to use when talking about them, so I’ll just link their MAD here.
Unexpected Sakuga – Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru Zoku
I knew Yahari Ore.. would have some impressive animation here and there, but I didn’t expect this show to have Tetsuya Takeuchi and Ryo Araki as main animators. With them on aboard each movement and facial expression on the characters was heartfelt.
Disgaeamad – [Twitter]
Episode – Rolling Girls #1 & #8
Under normal circumstances I’d be gushing about Idolmaster Cinderella Girls episode 3 thanks to Megumi Kouno’s work as AD and the fantastic performance from both her and Isao Hayashi, but this year I’m all about surprises. Much like these episodes of Rolling Girls were actually. We’d already gotten some glimpses of Arifumi Imai’s colourful and creative work in ep1 through the PVs and such, but just as the entire sequence had me thinking this was possibly his best work to date, along came episode 8 to prove me wrong. Of course, Imai’s work alone didn’t carry these episodes; each was full of fun, silly and downright cool animation to match what Rolling Girls was at its best. Whether it be the super expressive character animation accompanying an intense ramen eating showdown or the smeary goodness of a rock band performing as the stage around them shoots down Buddha statue missiles which explode into beautiful effects, the animation wasn’t just a bonus in these eps, it came together with everything else to create a ridiculously fun experience.
Show – Hibike! Euphonium
I can hear the OPM crowd trying to kick my door down already, but alas. I had a tough time picking between Hibike! Euphonium and Rolling Girls for the best episode section, but Rolling Girls doesn’t qualify for best show, so I’ll abuse this section instead for Eupho. Admittedly it didn’t start out with much, but that was merely a ruse for the gradual step up we’d see as the show went on, eventually culminating in one of the most stunning episodes not only this year, but pretty much in general. The train didn’t stop there though. Just as we thought it couldn’t get better, turns out episode 12’s also ridiculously strong! They even threw in what I’d consider my favourite piece of animation this year because hey, you can never have too much of something good.
Many of Eupho’s visual highs accompanied the show’s most outstanding moments, and that’s no coincidence. It’s a fantastic showcase of how said moments, already special in their own right, can become even more so through the aid of visuals to accentuate them. That’s why I consider it to not only be the best show to have aired this year, but also the most visually memorable one.
Movie – Only movies I watched this year were Aikatsu and Love Live, neither of which were super impressive animation wise.
Opening – Absolute Duo
Last year I had the pleasure of saying Ryouma Ebata provided us with the best ED of 2014 (hell, one of the best EDs in general), so it’s only fitting that this year I’d get to say he provided us with the best OP. The pace of this OP’s radically faster than what accompanied his previous work, but that didn’t stop him from delivering. Cool action? Check. Ebata Walk? Check. Figure skating in a field of flowers for no plausible reason? Check. Couple all that goodness with a solid Suzuki Konomi song and you’ve got the makings of a positively great OP.
Runners up: Sore ga Seiyuu!, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry
Ending – Kekkai Sensen
Yuki Hayashi animates characters doing the White People Dance to the classy tune of Unison Square Garden, kinda good imo. Now here’s hoping him and Matsumoto Rie get to escape from the menace known as BONES and their bad anime.
Animator Discovery – Hisaya Kuwabara [桑原 寿弥]
Now here’s a name that came out of nowhere. I doubt anyone expected Sore ga Seiyuu! to actually have lots of nice animation, let alone introduce us to a potential monster in the future. Especially one who solo’d one of the best concert performances we’ve seen ever since animas back in 2011. Fingers crossed that, between all his shitposting on twitter, he finds the time to become more prominent.
Unexpected Animation – Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls (Part 2)
Dereani’s status as a production disaster makes its second cour the perfect entry for this section, as the imas team proved that they have the ability and competence to deliver great work in almost every episode even when being messed about. Most noteworthy is Isao Hayashi, who rose up to show that he really isn’t just the fly-by camera guy; his grasp on chara animation easily matches that of his dance choreography, perhaps best represented through his take on a character who’s literally acting. We even get to directly compare how far he’s come since animas thanks his take on crying both here and there. Safe to say that I’m looking forward to what he does from here on out.
Don’t even get me started on Kouno either, who, despite being relegated to pretty much every position possible throughout the show’s lifetime (including NC in-show poster duty!), still managed to deliver work that was easily on par with her best. God bless.
Recommendation – Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru Zoku (aka Guile)
It feels a bit strange recommending a show like this for the animation when it’s not quite the focal point, but Guile provided us with minutes of noteworthy animation in almost every single episode through some odd miracle. Between Tatsuya Miki showing us how one should go about subtle but effective character animation, main animators Tetsuya Takeuchi and Ryo Araki going completely ham to the point of hilarity, and, most importantly, providing further example of how animation can add to the impact of a scene, it’s crazy to think about the sheer variety of character animation styles we witnessed throughout this show’s run. Takeuchi and Araki’ve been working together pretty often these past few years (most notably in Yuusibu and SAO II) as well, so I’m interested in seeing which dungeon they get locked up in next.
Kyouray – [Twitter]
Episode – Hibike! Euphonium #12
Many episodes of Hibike! Euphonium are worth mentioning, I first thought of choosing episode #12 but I decided to pick episode #8 instead.
I’ll focus on the highlight which is Reina and Kumiko hiking and getting closer, there are so many things to talk about here so I’ll keep it short. The staff put great care into the walking animation: the characters have their own timing and own way of walking (for example Reina is wearing heels).
There’s a sense of climbing in the movement, you can feel whether the road is sloping or not through the walk animation. The stronger bounce, shoulders tilting, the hair and fabric moving with a certain intensity (Reina with her frilly snow white dress and ponytail makes it more noticeable). Plus the weight of Kumiko’s euphonium case is well depicted, both characters have to bend their body when they carry it.
There is also a great sense of distance pictured here, they first walk separated then as they talk and climb, the gap narrows until the fantastic scene at the top. Add to this the lovely gesture, sweet fabric animation and a great performance scene. To top it all off the fantastic photography work by KyoAni enhances the whole scene even more and as a result you get sucked in as Kumiko does.
Runner-up: Mushishi : Suzu no Shizuku
This show is a great conclusion to the series, see my post from last year for details about Mushishi.
Show – Hibike! Euphonium, One-Punch Man
The outstanding series coming to my mind are without hesitation Hibike! Euphonium and One-Punch Man but I prefer to elaborate other minor series:
Haikyuu!! S2: Season 2 has a strong start and looks more polished (there is even a solo key animation episode) than the previous season. Regulars from s1 such as Takahiro Chiba, Yasayuki Kai and Shinji Suetomi are back. Though we apparently lose Ryo Araki but there’s ex-Ghibli animator Takeshi Inamura here as reinforcement.
Working!!! s3: This is series is also very solid and consistent show with Shingo Adachi’s animation supervision. It has attractive design, good grasp of body balance and cloth wrinkles. The series mainly shines with its everyday life gestures, it isn’t flashy but this kind of motion isn’t easy to achieve and it looks very nice here. The series also tries to add daring layouts and depth (examples here & here) to their cuts.
Rolling Girls is also worth checking even if the quality is irregular – but the action coupled with colorful effects is creative enough to appeal. Plus Kitada’s simple design allows expressive faces.
2nd half of Fate Unlimited Blade Works the main ufotable animators plus Nozomu Abe deliver us some great action.
Movie – Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade
The Yoshinari gang comes back full force. The second half of this film is crazy.
Openings and Endings –
OP – One Punch Man
ED – Kekkai Sensen
Animator Discovery – Keisuke Kobayashi (小林恵祐) and Arifumi Imai (今井有文)
Keisuke Kobayashi (小林恵祐): Discovered with Saekano. He comes from Xebec and that’s why he draws solid bodies with the grasps of volume and body balance like Tomoaki Takase. He contributed to Working as main animator.
Arifumi Imai (今井有文): Not really a discovery but he more caught my attention this year thanks to his recent work. His effects are eye candy specially in Rolling Girls but what I like the most is his gargantuan cuts. His Boruto scene truly is fantastic, he definitely knows how to animate things within a huge scale.
Unexpected Animation – Battlesaurs OP
Battlesaurs special OP by studio Trigger comes from nowhere but is cool as hell.
Recommendation – Animator Expo : Robot On the Road
Robot On the Road is one of my favourite Animator Expo shorts of this year. It isn’t creative at all and people may find it dull or creepy but this short has a high level of realistic animation, especially the amazing cuts by Akihiko Yamashita.
Hammerhead, Ultraman and Iconic Field have also impressive animation.
Bubu & Bubulina and I can Friday by day are less impressive animation-wise but have more interesting concept and visuals so are worth checking too.