A look at the ‘sakuga’ and animation of 2015

kViN – [Twitter]

EpisodeOne-Punch Man #12, Rolling Girls #1

As if to sum up the entire series, OPM #12 had a long and absolutely mind-boggling action animation display, followed by underwhelming character scenes with no stand-outs. A relative disappointment since despite the lacking character acting I still consider it one of the strongest action anime (#12 being its highest point), but one that still makes me a bit sad since it was a project that could have potentially made it to a shortlist of best anime productions of all time.

My favorite flawed gem this year has to be Rolling Girls though, which started with quite the colorful spectacle. I immediately fell in love with everything it presented; the liberally used but effective smears, the unconventional effects animation, the hectic action and the equally lively character scenes. RG #1 embodies many of the reasons why I enjoy this medium, ticking many of my boxes when it comes to stylized approaches to animation. It helps that I consider Kotomi Deai and Arifumi Imai to be a match made in heaven – the ever-colorful director and the person who draws the prettiest FX working together is a recipe for success. Seeing the show turn out to be an extremely uneven production after this intro hurt me, but I’ll still treasure Rolling Girls’ best moments.

As for the runner-ups, special mention to OPM #1 and its Kameda-Kugai 1-2 punch, Sunghoo Park’s Garo #18 peaking with that amazing Shikama scene, and Euphonium… #8? #11? #12? #13? Eupho’s last few episodes in general. They make choosing hard.

ShowOne-Punch Man, Animator Expo, Hibike! Euphonium

As far as impressive animation outbursts go OPM easily stands taller than anything else this year, while Animator Expo’s visual range is something that no TV anime project could match. I’ve done my duty writing a lot about both of them though, so I’d rather highlight Euphonium’s thorough excellence. A show that started off with an insane level of polish – something to be expected of a project featuring many of KyoAni’s top people, yet still remarkable – and only got better as it progressed, as opposed to the usual TV anime pattern. The initially stiff character acting got gradually livelier, to the point that in the second half every episode had notable scenes; quiet moments and emotional outbursts, realistic acting and more cartoony scenes. And obviously as the show ramped up, more and more instrument scenes all supervised by Hiroyuki Takahashi. He was the supervisor for all of K-ON back then, but the amount of work he did correcting the extremely detailed mechanical drawings in Eupho boggles the mind.

Overall the show didn’t quite turn out to be one of the studio’s best productions, but that’s just because the bar is set extremely high and it started off handicapped. Seeing it turn out as well as it did was rewarding enough.

MovieLittle Witch Academia 2, Kyoukai no Kanata Mirai-hen

An easy choice, considering I didn’t get the chance to watch neither Boruto nor Bakemono no Ko and Miss Hokusai’s major strengths weren’t necessarily tied to the actual animation. Little Witch Academia 2 delivers everything the first did despite the extended length, which is to say lots of lovely cartoony art, and action scenes that consist pretty much entirely of fluid effects animation. Shuhei Handa also got to crown himself as the most successful Yoshinari Children, after handling the beautiful climax that wears its influences in its sleeves. I adore LWA as a series of fun Saturday-morning cartoons with equally fun visuals, but I think its greatest success was giving a handful of youngsters the chance of learn from a master like Yoshinari. Animation will keep being entertaining for a few years thanks to this!

Kyoukai no Kanata’s style couldn’t be any more different, but its craft is equally notable. Many of the TV series’ highlights would easily have passed as a movie to begin with, so the actual theatrical production had to take that polish a bit further. Having a very animation-focused director like Ishidate storyboarding the entire film did wonders for the action, which flows better than it did in the series. It’s not surprising that even the drawings throughout the movie are constantly reminiscent of his work, seeing how his very detailed boards pretty much function as rough key animation. The star of the film are the FX however, which stand out not just because of the drawings themselves but also because of the very impressive coloring work. Quite the spectacle overall, making me wish Ishidate’s skills are attached to a better project next time.

Openings –Various

Absolute Duo

Ryouma Ebata solo

Lupin III

EndingsKekkai Sensen

Animator Discovery – Ema Yasuhara [安原 絵麻]

This year it has to be Musani’s young ace Ema Yasuhara, who got to debut as an animation director while showing off her character acting skills in Third Aerial Girls Squad. A youngster trusted with climac-

Wait, REAL people? Oh.

Animator Discovery – Toshi Sada, Toya Oshima, Hisaya Kuwabara

OPM has showcased some astonishing young talent; Toshi Sada’s episode #3’s yutapon-inspired climax impressed everyone, and prodigies like Toya Oshima amazed even Kameda himself despite (and because of) he’s only been doing key animation for about a year. On a personal level however, the nicest discovery was Hisaya Kuwabara. His name stood on in Sore ga Seiyuu since he kept getting credited for all the show’s short snippets of snappy dance animation, but it wasn’t until episode #12 that he got to show off his skill – this long scene which he did all by himself, from direction to the animation itself, where the entire series peaked. The timing of his motion catches the eye, and as a sequence it has impressive flow. Ahoboy has always been known for working with talented youngsters, and Kuwabara could end up being another addition to his list of impressive discoveries. And you know what? He’s pretty cute too!

Unexpected SakugaOregairu S2

Quite a few series this year ended up having highlights I never anticipated, but the biggest, consistent surprise has to be Oregairu Zoku. As a sequel to a really poorly produced series I never expected much from it, despite the PV showing that the entirely new team could make something much more solid. Then the show started precisely by reanimating a scene from the first series in an infinitely more expressive fashion, by the hand of Tetsuya Takeuchi. As it turns out that wouldn’t be his only appearance at all, since him and his pal Ryo Araki were tasked as the main animators for the series and worked on virtually every single episode. As a series that consists of pretty much nothing but conversations, all that Oregairu could ask for was solid character acting – and it got that. The emotional scenes were made so much more powerful thanks to the subtle body motion, and even the ridiculous moments made use of this newfound animation potential. Now this is the kind of unexpected gift I like to receive in a sequel.

RecommendationShingo Fujii’s GoPri work, Gundam Thunderbolt

The current iteration of Precure might very well have the best action in the entire franchise, something we’ve got to thank Shingo Fujii for. With Kazuhiro Ota’s support he’s been animating complex setpieces regularly, taking advantage of the show’s structure with more action climaxes than usual. Fujii’s output has mostly been following the same pattern, some exceptions aside; the recurring elements are a three-dimensional space, active camerawork and lots of debris animation, an approach he’s gradually refined to create extremely impressive scenes. I highly encourage people to check them out, while I wait to see what he’s going to deliver in the series’ final fights.

And as a really late addition to the list I’d like to urge mecha fans to watch Gundam Thunderbolt’s first episode. 2015 has been quite poor for robot fans so having Sunrise St1’s Gundam Unicorn crowd deliver something on this level is very welcome. It perhaps lack the polish UC and even Origin had, but it more than makes up for that with excellent mecha & FX animation and cool framing. Even the character work is impressive, with Takaya’s characteristic shading and a lot more detail than you’d usually expect. Quite the Christmas gift!


duckroll – [Twitter]

EpisodeDeath Parade Episode 11, Animator Expo: Hammerhead
Death Parade Episode 11 – This episode featured a really nice montage sequence cut together with an extended ice skating scene which was really well animated. The majority of the ice skating animation is the work of Takashi Kojima and Izumi Murakami, and they did a really good job on what is probably the most important scene in the entire series.

Animator Expo: Hammerhead – Out of all the Animator Expo shorts (and there are a bunch of really good ones) this has to be my favorite in terms of pure animation and direction. It features a lot of the sort of animation I enjoy seeing on a visual level – fast action motion, explosions with a lot of effects detail and debris, exciting camera work, and melee combat with a lot of weight behind each contact. I think Mahiro Maeda has really delivered on his Animator Expo shorts, and I would really hope to see him direct a new show some day.

ShowOne Punch Man

If we’re talking about pure animation consistency and the highest of highs, there really isn’t anything else this year which can compete with One Punch Man. Shingo Natsume shows that Space Dandy wasn’t just a fluke, and even at another studio, he has managed to put together a real sakuga show piece. It’s not my favorite show of the year, but it is by far my favorite sakuga show of the year. Episode 9 in particular is the highlight for me, because Yoshimichi Kameda knocked it out of the park along with all his animator friends. I love Kameda. 🙂

MovieGhost in the Shell New Movie

There hasn’t been much in terms of impressive anime movies this year, but this one did surprise me because I wasn’t expecting anything after how Arise turned out. The narrative in the film is much tighter than the cases in Arise, and while the overall conspiracy plot still feels too convenient, it ties together fairly well. What is of particular interest is that the action animation, art direction, and scene direction is really good. It’s great to see the team working together intelligently, and the set pieces really make it feel like a proper ensemble. Hopefully the director Kazuya Nomura can bring the same kind of energy into his TV series Joker Game in 2016.

OpeningsDeath Parade, Gatchaman Crowds Insight
Death Parade

Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Endings –  Haikyu!! Season 2, Kekkai Sensen
Haikyu!! Season 2

Kekkai Sensen

Animator DiscoveryToshiyuki Sato (佐藤利幸)
He’s been around for a while but I haven’t really paid much attention to his work specifically. What caught my eye this year was his heavy contribution in One Punch Man, especially in episodes 3 and 9. The way he animates Genos is visually appealing and shows off the strength in the motion’s momentum really well. Even simple reactions and flips during the action sequences can add a lot to the excitement of the scene when the timing is done well.

Unexpected AnimationGaro #18
Garo: Hono no Kokuin Episode 18 – This was a huge surprise in terms of animation, especially since I didn’t expect Sung Hoo Park to be taking charge of an entire episode of Garo as director, animation director, and storyboarder. The results were fantastic, especially since the highlight of the episode is a sword fight between the two leads. It’s always nice to see good production planning match up with the right material for the staff, so stuff like this is really satisfying to see come together.

RecommendationShirobako

Anyone who is a fan of animation should watch this. A fantastic series that entertains and educates at the same time. It’s really nice to finally have an anime about making anime which is clearly written and directed by people who do love the industry and are very passionate about working in it, but at the same time they are clearly not blind to the problems in it – both business-wise and culturally. What really makes it work though, is that it never feels like a cynical critique or a tone deaf celebration, but rather it feels like people working in the industry simply wanting to share what their work is like, and what trials and tribulations they face from day to day, injected with some in-jokes and anecdotes to keep it interesting.


Braves – [Twitter]

Movie – I saw a few movies in the theater just months after they came out in Japan: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (not anywhere close to what Okiura and crew achieved in the first two movies), Anthem of the Heart (nice Masayoshi Tanaka designs with some notable character animation here and there with a well-executed story), DBZ: Resurrection “F” (enjoyable to watch with a crowd), and the Attack on Titan live-action movies (which were a mix of being gruesome, unintentionally funny, and a drag). But the 2015 anime movie I enjoyed the most was Boruto. The movie was directed by Hiroyuki Yamashita, who has been groomed to be Pierrot’s top animator given his work on Shippuden. Yamashita started as a key animator on Shippuden (he worked on a few other shows before reaching Pierrot) before gradually moving up the chain. His first directorial work was Shippuden ED 12—under Toshiyuki Tsuru’s supervision—and he got to direct three Shippuden episodes before helming Boruto.

If you’re a regular fan watching Boruto, it’s mostly because Kishimoto penned the script. In that respect, the movie serves as a perfect final chapter to the entire Naruto story. Visually, the movie really shines in its action scenes. The movie starts off with an action scene by Naoki Kobayashi (another Pierrot animator who is following in Yamashita’s footsteps), and the middle and final action segments are exquisite. The highlight of the movie is Norio Matsumoto’s scene at the climax of the film. Matsumoto storyboard, directed, and was the animation director for the climax of the film which included animators such as Arifumi Imai and Ken’ichi Fujisawa. But Matsumoto is far and above the rest with his taijutsu scene. There are a number of sakuga fans who grew up watching Naruto. Whether or not they still followed the show years later, they still remember the episodes Matsumoto worked on with Atsushi Wakabayashi, on top of the episodes by the Tsuru/Suzuki duo. If you are one of those fans, you definitely owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Runner-up for Best Movie: Selected Animator Expo Shorts

You should watch every Animator Expo short just because they are not that much of a time investment and even the bad ones are interesting to watch for one reason or another. Among the ones that stood out for me were the Me!Me!Me!, Me!Me!Me! Chronic, and Girl shorts directed by Hibiki Yoshizaki. Yoshizaki’s editing and visual eccentricity not only stood out on his own shorts, but he was also a technical director on Kanón. Directed by Mahiro Maeda, Kanón stood out from an animation point of view and from the unrelenting pace to its story and dialogue. Maeda was also the “animation director” (presumably the kantoku for the animation and not the one correcting the keys) for Hammerhead, which had crazy animation by Hidetsugu Ito.

Maeda is among two other individuals at Studio Khara who should have more opportunities to direct. First is the criminally underrated Kazuya Tsurumaki, who reunited with Hajime Ueda to create another oddball, touching story in I can Friday by Day! Sushio’s style worked perfectly with Take’s designs, so it makes me drool for more of this kind of stuff. Tadashi Hiramatsu is the other individual. Hiramatsu was once set to direct Ghost Rhapsody, a shoujo movie, back in the mid-2000s but nothing came of that project. With Ibuseki Yoruni, Hiramatsu shows off his nationalistic bent while providing a tightly laid-out, abridged script for a full-length movie.

Hiroyuki Imaishi went back to his purest unhinged and unfiltered style with Sex, Violence and Machspeed. That short also introduced me to Kai Ikarashi, a young Studio Trigger animator who shows plenty of promise. Takashi Nakamura—who is best known as the animation director behind the meticulously animated Akira—also contributed his own short: Bubu & Bubulina. I had passively ignored Nakamura’s previous directorial output, but this short has definitely inspired me to look at his older work because it was sublime.

Lastly, Hiroyuki Okiura directed Robot on the Road. Okiura directed this at Khara after parting ways with Production I.G. The character designs and animation were amazing. Okiura’s approach to realism is one of the biggest draws to Japanese animation for me. However, this short was just a peeping Tom show—literally. Okiura is one of the modern icons of animation to me, but I think it might be time for him to step down from directing.


SakugaDaichi – [Twitter]

EpisodeGo! Princess Precure #30

This episode is absolutely my favourite precure episode since Heartcatch Precure #34. Shingo Fujii produced some of his best work to date in this one and the sheer scale of the battle that unfolded was a wonder to behold. The Kazuhiro Ota and Shingo Fujii teamups in GoPri gave us some really great animation this year and this was the absolute highlight.

ShowGo! Princess Precure

As soon as the first episode ended I knew this would be my favourite show of the year. Shingo Fujii’s work at the end of the episode is some of the best action out there and his faux-3D camerawork is second to none. As the show progressed Kazuhiro Ota and Nishiki Itaoka also produced some excellent work. It’s definitely a joy to watch thanks to these fine folks great work under director Yuta Tanaka and of course the show having incredibly likable characters helps. Kazuhiro Ota’s Cure Scarlet transformation will stay burned in my mind for years to come.

The runner up for me is One-Punch Man for obvious reasons.

Movie – Psycho Pass The Movie

Though there were definitely better movies that came out this year, as the latest entry in the Psycho Pass franchise this year’s movie continuation was the best looking piece of media in the franchise to date. Thanks in large part to Naoyuki Onda who was an animation director in later episodes but here was one of the main AD’s alongside the series main character designer Kyoji Asano. As much more of an action movie than the series has been the transition worked here largely thanks to the standout action set pieces that were directed more expertly than even the shows great action moments. Onda’s hand as an animation director was very much evident throughout as the characters resembled how they looked in his episodes of the show and with that came the wider form of expressions than we’ve seen from these characters as well. Onda and Asano did a great job making the transition in genre more stable than it could have been no matter how lacklustre the rest of the production was.

OpeningAbsolute Duo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CBctbw3c0s

Ryouma Ebata wasn’t an animator I was aware of until I saw this opening and by god did he blow me away. Ebata’s lively character and effects animation in the opening makes one really get excited. As a solo effort it really came out looking spectacular. It’s a shame about the actual show though.

Animator DiscoveryToshi Sada

Of all the new discoveries in One-Punch Man, the one that made the biggest splash for me was Toshi Sada. Sada’s expert use of Yutapon cubes made sure you’d not forget this newcomer anytime soon. Of all the animators who seem to be inspired by Yutaka Nakamura, I certainly wasn’t expecting a newcomer to come and upstage them all is such spectacular fashion.

The runner up here would be Toya Oshima whose short but excellent cut of background animation blew everyone away in episode 9 of One-Punch Man.

Unexpected SakugaTakashi Torii on Gakusen Toshi Asterisk

Takashi Torii’s excellent work on this show came as a surprise to me seeing as his work on Seven Deadly Sins was slightly underwhelming. Here he brought the side of himself that everyone’s come to love from his early work and his Senran Kagura work. Since Torii’s big move to A-1 he’s been getting the superstar treatment but I was at least hoping that would mean work of this quality from him on a good show but sadly that has yet to materialize.

RecommendationOne-Punch Man

Probably not gonna be the only one recommending this show but really it has some of the best animation we saw this year and it deserves all the praise it gets besides some art direction and colour design issues. With so many industry greats and newbies producing amazing work on this it was defiantly one of the most watchable shows this year. Natsume’s especially strong storyboarding on the early episodes and finale standing out as much as they did show he’s really the driving force behind what made the show great along with his core crew of animation directors like Yoshimichi Kameda and Se Joon Kim. It was a great show for animation aficionados.


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9 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.

  5. Pingback: Sakugabowl 2015 | Sobre animadores y sakuga

  6. Pingback: An Introduction to GEIDAI Animation | Wave Motion Cannon

  7. Pingback: A Look at the Sakuga and Animation of 2016 – Sakuga Blog

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