A look at the ‘sakuga’ and animation of 2015

HosannaExcelsis – [Twitter]

EpisodeJapanese Animator Expo

The Expo is the perfect encapsulation of anthology projects: wildly uneven in quality, but the creative license allows for fantastic highlights. There are several notable shorts from 2015’s seasons 2 and 3 – Mahiro Maeda’s Kanon and Hammerhead, Takashi Nakamura’s Bubu and Bubulina, Akiyoshi Yokoyama and Hisashi Mori’s Ultraman – but my favorite was The Diary of Ochibi. This short overseen by Masashi Kawamura (Tatami Galaxy ED), takes 2D animation and converts it into stop-motion animation, using real-world objects to express Ochibi’s adventures through the four seasons. The amount of work that went into this is incredible – as an example, Kawamura said that to do 1 minute of the summer section the team needed to draw 700 unique fans – and it completely paid off. How can you not look at this and smile?

ShowHaikyuu!! Second Season

The first season of Haikyuu is an incredibly consistent high-quality production, and if anything the second season has improved further. The overall commitment to displaying motion that both feels realistic and expresses the emotions and personalities of the characters that’s impressive. Scenes that many shows would leave to stills, such as short throwaway volleyball matches and training montages, get fully animated, which helps to create a living, breathing fictional world.

It’s not just the volleyball action that gets attention, but subtler character animation off the court as well. Attention to detail is everywhere, from the way the team manager takes off and puts on her glasses when changing clothes to leaving a bit of watermelon on a player’s cheek after eating. Even the highlighted cuts, such as Takahiro Chiba’s flashy cut of Hinata running, are done not as random animation but with a narrative purpose, in this case to show Hinata’s pent-up frustration at being looking down upon burst forth in violent, unexpected action.

Perhaps the most impressive episode is episode 4, featuring Hideki Takahashi on solo key animation. A well-animated solo episode is impressive enough, but one that features some of the most notable animation in the show, such as smeary serves and reckless 2D driving is even more impressive. When so many shows suffer from crunched schedules, it’s lovely to see a production that has been given enough time to shine.

MovieBoruto: Naruto the Movie

I don’t care about the Naruto franchise, but this movie still managed to capture me with its incredible displays of animation. The downtime scenes are average, but the big action scenes, particularly the two extended sequences of all-out battling between the heroes and villains, are wild. The main villain’s power, absorbing elemental properties, is the perfect excuse to show off crazy effects animation of all kinds, and the animators have taken full advantage of it. The characters themselves become effects, everything blending into a dazzling symphony of colorful forms.

Openings and Endings – Perfect Insider

The most impressive OP and ED of the year easily belong to Perfect Insider. Bringing in artists from outside the anime industry help give them a unique flavor. The OP, directed by music video director Kazuaki Seki, uses rotoscoping, simple character outlines given extremely lively movement, and playful effects to create a highly attractive dance. The ED, done by digital artist Baku Hashimoto, uses generative techniques drawn from Conway’s Game of Life, and its abstract designs are coordinated perfectly with the music.

Unexpected SakugaStudio Gooneys’ CG work on Show by Rock

I wasn’t expecting Show by Rock to have a notable production, but it ended up being much better than I anticipated, with the highlight being the CG scenes done by Studio Gooneys. Instead of awkwardly integrating 2D and 3D, the show segregates 3D CG into “otherworld” scenes with highly stylized chibi character designs, allowing it to work much better than anime CG has traditionally worked. The CG itself is done very well, with smooth motion, good lighting, and even stylish effects. This is Studio Gooneys’ first anime work – they seem to have mostly done work for games and commercials – and I hope to see more of them in the future.

RecommendationGhost in the Shell: New Movie, Kagewani, Shounen Hollywood

A couple things from 2015 that aren’t strictly animation highlights but are worth noting. First, Ghost in the Shell: New Movie is, despite the lame title, a very well-directed action thriller. The animation, while polished to movie quality, is not particularly notable in itself, but is within the context of Kazuya Nomura’s storyboard. Nomura frames everything in a clear and logical manner, which helps a lot when there are many complicated setpieces with a multitude of moving parts. It reminds me of the way Masahiro Ando storyboards action, only Nomura’s work here is even more impressive in some ways simply because the action is on a larger playing field (an entire embassy building and the surrounding blocks, for example) than is usual for anime yet you always know what’s going on and where the characters are in relation to each other.

Second, Kagewani, while very low-budget and limited-animation, is visually impressive due to strong direction, art design, and especially creature design. Sometimes horror loses its effect when you re able to clearly see the monster, but here the monsters are so alien and threatening in appearance that seeing them makes you even more afraid of them.

Lastly, Shounen Hollywood. While the writing is the main draw of the series, the production is also noteworthy for the lack of shortcuts it takes, despite being clearly crunched for time during the TV broadcast. Little of the usual animation-saving techniques, such as long stills, background pans, or obscuring faces, are used. Even a production such as Idolmaster would frequently cut away from its performance sequences to stills of audience reactions, but in Shounen Hollywood’s many performances the camera is consistently kept on the performers, with their dances being done in full 2D animation. The downside of this is that, when there has not been time to polish the character art, it really shows, but when there has been time, such as in the series finale, the commitment to full animation makes the performances more thrilling than any other 2D idol performances I have seen.

Paeses – [Twitter]


This year was not kind to us. Yeah we got OPM and Animator Expo but overall animation wise there are few things to remember from 2015.

What really took me by surprise, which was beyond amazing, is Arifumi Imai’s scene on Boruto The Movie. The fact that the staff trusted him with such strong scene is amazing and showed his talent to the fullest. You clearly see his work on Attack on Titan paid off as he now includes lots of lovely effect animation and perspective work. There are nice highlights throughout this year but for me this is the best I have seen in a while.

Honorable Mention: Nozomu Abe – F/SN #17

This animator always delivers and never does a dull scene. What he did on episode #17 shows exactly why Ufotable count on him. Even if some Sakuga fans complained about Ufotable’s composition and digital effects, I still think the animation stood out and was glorious.

Episode – Garo #18

“We got few nice episodes and then we got OPM episodes”

Garo #18: the show was dead to me after Takafumi Hori left, but suddenly out of nowhere episode #18 aired with an interesting staff. We got Sunghoo Park as Episode Director, Storyboarder and Animation Director. In addition he brought with him his pal Takahiro Shikama. The end result was excellent character art that fit the AD’s style and one of the most interesting scenes done by Takahiro Shikama.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rolling Girls #01
  • OPM #01-#12
  • Haikyu!! S2 #01
  • Yoru no Yatterman #12

ShowAnimator Expo, Haikyu!! S2, One-Punch Man

Animator Expo: This was a pleasant surprise. A project where the creators had the freedom to do whatever they want and be as creative as possible. Therefore we ended up with 35 creative shorts which have the best animation done this year done by industry legends and new animators too. You need to watch everything.

Haikyu!! S2: A great example of what a show with good schedule would look like. The staff did it again and the show looks better than season 1. With the right schedule and talented animators, this show looks great with every episode. One of the good things I found is that a bunch of young realistic animators work regularly on this show and we get scenes like this and this.

One-Punch Man: God bless Shingo Natsume and everyone who worked on this show.

MovieLittle Witch Academia, Boruto The Movie

“I didn’t watch any Anime movie this year beside Little Witch Academia 2”

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade: Yoh Yoshinari and Trigger doing a literal magic parade. It is nice to see the young talents who were training on the first LWA mature and become professional animators by the time the 2nd film rolled around. Specially Shuhei Handa.

Boruto The Movie: I’m sure it’s a great film, but I technically did not watch it. Still, this should convince you of how good the animation is.

Openings and Endings – Death Parade OP

Death Parade OP: This one caught me by surprise, given the show’s tone I was expecting a more serious OP. But we got a musical-like OP that was fun to watch and well-animated.

Honorable Mention:

  • Lupin The Third OP
  • Subete ga F ni Naru OP
  • Ore Monogatari!! ED
  • One-Punch Man OP

Animator Discovery – Sunghoo Park (朴性厚) [Booru]

Sunghoo Park: Park is a talented Korean animated who came from Studio Comet. He attracted attention to his work on both One Piece Z(#2) and Senki Zesshou Symphogear G #04. He caught my attention on Space Dandy #03. As you can see he has a unique style that you do not usually see from a Japanese animator. For example he draws smoke in a circular shape and he loves doing scenes with a moving animated background. I consider his style somewhat Kanada too. Recently you can see him working for MAPPA and Gonzo. His recent great work was Garo #18 and #24 and Punchline. He has been absent lately and is likely working on something big. I’m sure going to keep my eye on him.

Unexpected SakugaMikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku

Just the first four episodes. Cool scenes is what you get when Takashi Mukouda is in board. He was the Action AD, we got some nice action sequences and guest appearance like His Soichiro Matsuda, Hisashi Mori, and the man himself Takashi Mukouda.

RecommendationAnimator Expo, Death Parade, Arslan Senki, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime and One-Punch Man

tamerlane – [Twitter]

My favorite pieces of animation from this year were done by Arifumi Imai, Shingo Fujii, and especially Yutaka Nakamura. Very few animators can make every new cut of theirs an event but I feel Yutapon has reached that level of mastery. However, I tried to balance animation quality with overall quality in these choices and I can’t really recommend any of the shows they worked on.

Episode I can Friday by Day! (Kazuya Tsurumaki)

Sushio’s designs haven’t looked this good since Kittan Zero, which helps to wash the sour taste left by Kill la Kill’s second cour. Might not be the best AniExpo (Kanon, Nishi-Ogikubo, and Bubulina have stronger claims to that title) but, for me, Friday by Day! is the most rewatchable.

ShowJapan Animator Expo

The Space Dandy expansion pack. Despite large swaths of mediocrity, Khara’s Animator Expo web series delivered where it counts. We got Imaishi’s best work since PanSto, two top rate films by Mahiro Maeda, Kazuya Tsurumaki’s triumphant return, another excellent Colorido/Nakamura collab, and solid entries by Akemi Hayashi, Yasuhiro Yoshiura, Masashi Kawamura, Akitoshi Yokoyama, Masayuki, and Akira Honma, with top tier animators like Shinya Ohira, Shinji Hashimoto, Takeshi Honda, and Hisashi Mori making appearances throughout. Though disappointments ranged from mild (Utsunomiya’s, Nakazawa’s, Amemiya’s) to grievous (Hiramatsu’s, Kamikaze Douga’s, Okiura’s, the latter being both the best animated and the worst overall), AniExpo’s successes outweighed its failures; no show this year had as many standout episodes. Shout out to Hibiki Yoshizaki’s clever (too clever?) diptych of Me!Me!Me! and GIRL. It’s to Yoshizaki’s credit that with big name Gainax veterans filling up the roster he still managed to distinguish himself as a name to look out for.

MovieShashinkan (Takashi Nakamura)

Technically 2013 but only got a disc release this year. My initial response to Nakamura’s film was that it felt like a Kickstarter project. I don’t mean in the pejorative sense, overpromised and underdelivered, but that, despite its modest size, Shashinkan allowed Nakamura to execute a individual vision that he probably wouldn’t have been able to within the normal confines of studio production. All the key animation was done by Nakamura, meaning his quasi-Disney style (the 60s/70s xerographed, angular, Milt Kahl Disney) informs the character animation at every step. Shinji Kimura did backgrounds as well, making it one of the most attractive products released this year. Above all, Shashinkan shows Nakamura can pull off ‘serious’ without undermining his tendency towards caricature, something which plagued his two projects before this. It might be a minor work overall but I can’t think of a movie or OVA from 2015 that was as confidently realized.

Honorable Mention: Miss Hokusai


Not as many clear standouts as there were last year, so I went with Naoyuki Asano’s OP for Osomatsu-san. The motion is kinda sparse but when compared to the show proper, where Asano’s touch felt relatively light, the OP’s charm sticks out.

Honorable Mention: Lupin III, Perfect Insider

EndingsPerfect Insider

See above. Perfect Insider’s ED is both high concept and visually exciting, qualities which are rarer in EDs. Digital animator Baku Hashimoto was behind this one. I’m not too familiar with his work but he pulls it off well enough.

Honorable Mention: Osomatsu-san

Animator Discoverykoya58 [Youtube]

Webgen has been a little too predictable for me lately, so I’m glad that there’s still animators out there trying new things with DIY tools. Koya’s style mixes professional-grade action (closer to the sturdiness of a Norio Matsumoto than webgen amorphousness) with bald-faced amateurism, obvious shortcuts, flashtoon puppetry, heta-uma designs, and even rotoscope in one case. Virtually all his work is monochrome and made to look like keys fresh off the drawing board (or tablet). Basically, he’s ONE in animated form, which is probably why his Mob Psycho 100 commercials capture ONE’s style perfectly. Recently I’ve been interested in animators who turn the detritus of digital animation into an aesthetic plus and koya (along with a few scenes in Ninja Slayer) helped scratch that itch.

Unexpected SakugaStudio Colorido

I’ll admit I was sleeping on these guys but after this year I’m fully on-board. Nearly everything Colorido has touched has been high quality. This is mostly due to the efforts of ex-Ghibli animator Yojiro Arai, one of the studio’s pillars, but co-founder Hiroyasu Ishida is no slouch either and they even managed to attract Bahi JD for their first feature. Colorido still lacks a distinctive creative voice outside of the Nakamura collabs but with all these ambitious start-ups in recent years – Trigger, MAPPA, Science Saru, WIT, Chizu, Kinema Citrus, Akichi – it’s refreshing when a new studio actually has their shit in order.

RecommendationL’Oeil du Cyclone (Masanobu Hiraoka)

AOTY easily. Hiraoka has built a respectable body of work over the last few years, establishing a recognizable voice through his animation. He uses excessive follow-through to convey an impression of lightness a la Emery Hawkins, but he balances that by funneling his action through discrete poses. There’s an outre element in that his drawings look fleshy and explicit even when the forms themselves are abstract. There’s this tactile quality here that abstract animation rarely attempts. Cyclone probably deserves an extended treatment elsewhere but suffice it to say that Hiraoka is in top form here. This was the only piece of Japanese animation from this year that thoroughly impressed me as animation and I highly recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in this stuff.

Arasan – [Twitter]

EpisodeOne-Punch Man #1 & #12; Euphonium #12; Rolling Girls #1 & #2; Yoru no Yatterman #1 & #12(BD)

2015 wasn’t that great of a year for TV anime as far as animation is concerned (save for One-Punch Man), but nonetheless there were some highlights to go around. One-Punch Man’s first and last episodes had halves chock full of outstanding action animation, while KyoAni went all-out for Euphonium’s finale with nice examples of character and instrument animation.

Both Rolling Girls and Yoru no Yatterman had their fair share of production hiccups, but had some episodes with lots of good animation nonetheless. Yatterman’s TV broadcast of the finale in particular was full of unfinished cuts, but even then it was able to impress to an extent.

Show One-Punch Man; Death Parade

I’m sure others will be able to comment on One-Punch Man better than I possibly can, but I’ll say it’s great to see the anime’s staff being open towards naming the animators responsible for their sequences. The show also gave me a greater appreciation of Norifumi Kugai’s skills as an animator. His work in the first episode- while obviously limited in the number of drawings- effectively conveyed a believable sense of weight and volume(especially in the first few cuts); something that I enjoy seeing in animation. I previously never quite pegged him as an animator with realist tendencies, but in hindsight this was a trait he displayed in Space Dandy.

MovieBoruto: Naruto the Movie; Kyoukai no Kanata movie; When Marnie was there

2015 brought about another Naruto movie, this time with Hiroyuki Yamashita’s movie director debut in Boruto: Naruto the Movie. Having been fortunate enough to catch in in theatres, I am pleased to report that the movie delivers very well on the action front. But first, it must be said that the movie had a very short production time of roughly 4 months and it showed; the non-action bits were of the caliber of an in-house TV episode, not to mention Yamashita fell ill over the course of the movie’s production.

Now, on to the good news; Boruto hands down contains my favourite action sequences of the year. Naoki Kobayashi and Norio Matsumoto had extensive participation in the movie as unit directors, animation supervisors, and storyboard artists along with key animation responsibilities. The sequences involving the aforementioned two are the best parts of the film, with Kobayashi handling the minute-and-a-half opening fight all by himself. It was a good showcase of the youngster’s talents in effects animation and martial arts sequences, though the quick cuts in the melee combat parts made it hard to see at times. Given Kobayashi’s responsibilities in Boruto, I wonder if he’ll be allowed to storyboard or be animation director on episode of the TV series sometime down the line.

Finally, the battle with the movie’s villain in the final act featured an amazing sequence by a three-man team of Norio Matsumoto, Ken’ichi Fujisawa, and Arifumi Imai. Naturally Matumoto’s part was the most impressive, featuring well-choreographed melee combat along with a healthy dose of background animation and effects- it’s simply Matsumoto action at its finest.

Openings and Endings

Absolute Duo OP

Featuring fighting, dancing, and Ebata’s trademark swagger, this solo animated opening sequence is a mighty impressive bit of work.

Naruto Shippuden ED 32

A nearly solo effort by Naoki Kobayashi, where he did everything from directing to (first) key animation. At the time of writing, this was his sole contribution to the TV series this year, after which he was occupied with work on Boruto for most of the part.

 Animator DiscoveryMasayuki Kunihiro [国弘 昌之]

While not exactly a name previously unknown to me, it wasn’t until his work on the recent Fate/Stay Night TV anime where he caught my attention. Kunihiro has been working for Ufotable for quite a while, but work in the aforementioned series is his best yet. Alongside Nozomu Abe, Kunihiro animated many of the impressive scenes in the show. He tends to draw effects as sharp arcs and debris as pointy, trapezoidal or triangular pieces.

Unexpected SakugaGo! Princess Precure

I don’t follow the series, but Shingo Fujii’s work in the 2015 installment has been very good. He’s done a handful of action sequences nicely depicting movement in three-dimensional space.

RecommendationAnimator Expo

The final season of Animator Expo was its strongest run, so I’ll briefly mention the few that I liked best.

  • Hammerhead – Hidetsugu Ito’s action animation in this short alone makes it worth watching, it’s Ito at his finest.
  • The Ultraman – Hisashi Mori was animation director for this one, and his signature style is everywhere in this short. Coupled with Akitoshi Yokoyama’s directing and Studio Pablo’s hand-painted backgrounds this is a visual treat.
  • Robot on The Road – A cheeky short by Hiroyuki Okiura, it’s full of his signature realistic character animation. Just don’t watch this in public.

Other worthwhile Animator Expo shorts from the final season: Bubu and Bubulina, Ragarok, Cassette Girl (this one’s CG, but it’s really well done- trust me!)

Forgive me for the non-anime recommendation, but feel free to check out Aleksandr Petrov’s animated adaptation of “The Old Man and the Sea”. It’s a gorgeous short film utilizing paint-on-glass animation which means the entire thing is an animated painting. It’s a very painstaking process so we’ll probably never see anything like it ever again.

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10 Responses to A look at the ‘sakuga’ and animation of 2015

  1. AH says:

    Lovely list. But I do have a tangential question: would it be seen as “cheating” or otherwise not entirely valid to highlight shows where only the BD/DVD version of an episode had improvements and fixes that might provide significantly better animation over the broadcast release? It seems that much of anime discussion is stuck in the “here and now” for that to be a consideration, but I’d like to hear what you guys think. You did briefly mention the BD for Yatterman Nights but I’m sure that is not the only possible example.

    • Kraker2k says:

      I think most sakuga fans know the hardships anime staff go through to get things looking good in time for airing and understand that sometimes waiting for the BD release will uncover some better animation, that is the case for Yatterman for sure. For example, last year it was Wizzard Barristers.

  2. Jeremy Bartlett says:

    >bad BONES anime

    Well fuck you too.

  3. Jeremy Bartlett says:

    Wow between the obessive OPM wank to the lack of love for Kekkai Sensen and G-Reco this article was terrible.

  4. Jeremy Bartlett says:

    Whatever….choices weren’t all that great.

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