.. ation we see can be divided into two different styles. Those styles are called “limited animation” and “full animation”. In limited animation, only parts of a character move at any given time. For instance, only the mouth of a character will move while he or she is speaking. This form of animation is often seen in syndicated cartoons or those shown on Saturday mornings.
In full animation, almost everything on the screen moves at the same time. The movement is often choreographed with movements of real actors to appear as life-like as possible. This style is used mostly in Disney movies. Still, many animated cartoons which would be classified as limited animation are blending in some full animation techniques. Japanese anime is usually a very extreme case of limited animation.
In anime, when one character is speaking, everything else on the screen will appear as if it has been frozen in time. The other characters will stand in the background like zombies. Even in the American version of this, you will often see that animators still pay attention to small details. Take a closer look and you will see characters blink their eyes and fidget in the background of a regular cartoon. Nobody really notices this when they see it, however the absence of it looks painstakingly clear in anime! Once again, animation is all about movement; even small movements add to the sense of realism.
Only Americans seem to understand how important this really is. Perhaps it’s because many of the old-time animators grew up in an era when all animation had to be drawn again and again by each individual frame. It was a time-consuming and endearing task, which was only made worth it from the satisfaction given by seeing the final product. It would seem that there’s a self-imposed level of quality that American animators expect from themselves. American animators understand that animation is not just about telling a story — it’s about bringing it to life! The great Chuck Jones once recalled a kid telling him, “You don’t draw Bugs Bunny.
You draw pictures of Bugs Bunny.” There is one more issue to discuss when comparing the visual quality of Japanese anime to American animation, and that is of facial expressions. Cartoon characters are usually based off of exaggerated caricatures of real life, and so they often use very exaggerated facial expressions. Of course, the type of expressions used varies greatly from Japanese and American animation. These expressions are very important because they add emotions to the characters, which makes the animation seem even more life-like. Some anime fans will contend that anime has more facial expressions than American animation. I do not see any weight to this theory. There are American cartoons where hundreds of expressions are used. In fact, there are almost an infinite variation of expressions that can be used to give slightly different effects in American cartoons.
This is because of the curve-based drawing method used in American animation. On the other hand, most Japanese animes only contain a small set of facial expressions. These may include a single expression for the emotions of happiness, shock, anger, and sadness. Other times, anime characters will not display any emotion at all. However, the anime expressions do have a tendency to stand out and can sometimes leave lasting impressions on the viewer.
It’s also true that some of them are very extreme and exaggerated. I suppose in some ways this is a benefit to the emotional element of Japanese animation, but in no way is Japanese animation capable of having more facial expressions than American animation. Another problem with Japanese animation is that changes of facial expressions tend to look a lot more choppy than they do in American animation. Besides facial expressions, body postures can also be important clues used to show emotions. The subtle body posture of a character can show whether he is relaxed, stressed, impatient, shy, brave, cowardly, aggressive, and so much more. Psychologists have known this for a long time, and the American animators usually do a pretty good job of incorporating this idea in their animations.
Too bad the Japanese are still pretty much clueless on this one. Go ahead and try to prove otherwise, but as far as I know, the only way you can tell the emotion of an anime character is by reading his face. After reading all of this, it may seem that I have left out one key advantage that Japanese animation has. To be fair, I will mention it. The use of colors and shading is often quite more advanced in Japanese anime than it is in American animation.
In this area, it might seem that American animation hasn’t really advanced much beyond the Technicolor days. It’s not because Americans don’t have the skills or knowledge of how to make good shading. In other art forms, like comic book art, Americans make very good use of shading which far exceeds the anime-style. The anime-style of shading is actually a very simplified version of shading that usually only uses one color for highlights and one for shadows, rather than the more advanced forms of shading which use graduated amounts of blended colors. Still, it’s a nice visual touch which can give atmospheric effects similar to those found in theatrical lighting. Yes, it’s overuse in anime can be annoying, but there are certain areas where I think something similar could be effective in American animation.
One reason Americans don’t use it is because of the added production time and costs it would require. There is also the fact that Americans learned along time ago that the whole “persistence of vision” trick, which is the basis for all animation, works best with flat colors. You see, if you use a lot of shading effects, then the animation seems less smooth and requires higher frame rates to obtain the same quality level. Over all, I think that American animation nurtures what is most important to its art form, the animation itself! Quality of Plot Of course animation is not all about whether it looks good or not. In the final analysis, it must hold value as a quality piece of entertainment.
Notice that I said “quality”. Just because someone finds something entertaining does not mean that it has quality. There are other factors that influence people such as personal tastes, experience, maturity, background and mental state of being. However, if you can break down “quality” into specific commonly accepted standards and point out the details concerning them, you can make a legitimate comparison. The other areas, besides the visual quality of animation, which need to be discussed are the quality of the voice acting, plot, storyline, and scripting. These of course are going to be a lot more subjective, but my goal here is to cover popular beliefs on the subject and also raise certain provoking questions which may challenge a reader to come to his own conclusion.
Why is it that people can watch as little as five minutes of American animation and still find it entertaining, but it is not so for Japanese anime? Now there is a question of simple logic for all those obsessed anime fans to try to answer. Whenever someone says that they saw some anime but didn’t like it because they couldn’t understand what was going on, an anime fan will answer by explaining that the person must watch more of it in order to begin to like it. The more time you spend watching it, the more you’ll like it. Of course, this is true of almost anything! You can learn to like anything, if you expose yourself to it for a long period of time. Many anime fans have watched hundreds of hours of animes.
However, the question still remains. Why is it that I can watch a five minute Looney Tunes short and still see as much action in it as there is to see in an entire episode of an anime series, and yet still perfectly understand what’s going on? I mean, that’s what I call time well spent! Just take a look at some of the works of Tex Avery, and you’ll see what I mean. But if you were to randomly watch five minutes of any anime, you’d have a 95% chance of seeing a bunch of nothing. Maybe that example is a little extreme, considering that most animes run as continuing series. Still, we cannot ignore the run-of-the-mill plots found in most individual anime episodes. Most anime series contain a pattern format that is used to construct the plot for each episode.
In America, formats are used to some extent also (mostly in old sitcoms) but nowhere to the same level of restriction as in anime. It seems to me, that most animes are missing the plot twists, variety, and suspense that make American series fun to watch. It’s all too linear and predictable. After you’ve seen several episodes, you can already guess the layout for the next episode. How many plot ideas have you seen used over and over again in the same anime series? A typical plot might follow like this: good guys learn some bad news, good guys find bad guys, good guys talk with bad guys, good guys go fight bad guys, something bad happens to good guys, good guys fight harder, good guys win, but bad guys get last laugh.
Boy, that sounds boring, doesn’t it? While you may be thinking that you’ve seen this sort of stuff in American animation as well, the difference is that American storywriters usually add more to spice it up. For instance, there might be a few scenes of comic relief mixed in here and there. Also, an American cartoon might be bound to a simple rule that the good guys must always win in the end, but how they win is a different story. In different episodes, the good guys will win through different means, not just fighting. That’s called ingenuity! So what accounts for these slow-moving empty plots found in Japanese anime episodes? Well, compare it to American animation.
In an American production you have many happy-go-lucky writers who work on different individual episodes and are constantly developing fresh and new ideas on a regular basis. The American writers are given the freedom to experiment and try new things. Some episodes will turn out rotten, but others will be really good. The plot of the series evolves dynamically as new ideas are thought up. In Japan, the concepts of most animes are developed by one person. Often times, the plot is sketched out long before the anime even exist. Often times, the plot is based entirely off a manga.
Anime fans will argue that this gives Japanese series stronger continuity than American series, but I partially disagree. Anime series often leave a lot of plot holes in individual episodes. These gaps exist because the plot is forced to move in a certain direction, but there aren’t any plausible explanations for why it does. The director knows he must get from point “A” to “C”, but there is no “B” connecting them. Even worse, a lot of the time new characters are brought in for the sole purpose of being a “plot device” and then disappear, never to be seen again. Sometimes, regular characters in anime series will act totally out-of-character. Some anime fans will try to get you to believe that this is because the characters are dynamic.
The truth is that these regular characters act out-of-character, just because they’re needed for a specific purpose to move the plot along. The difference between this and being dynamic is that realistic characters change over a period of time. Not all of a sudden for no applicable reason. That’s human nature! What about the continuity of American-based plots? Well, it actually works out pretty well a lot of the time. Even though different writers write different episodes, there is still is a whole hierarchy of “checks and balances” in the production of each episode. Overall, I’d have to say that the quality of individual episodes of American series is much better than it is in the Japanese series. Also, most American series don’t live to grow as old as the anime series do. When the flow of creativity is over, it marks the end of an American series. On the other hand, a lot of anime series will carry on for many seasons after they’ve grown old and weary, simply because the producers are still making money off all its fans who will flock like geese to anything that carries its name.
Another question I have to ask, is why are characters’ emotions displayed so blatantly in Japanese anime? Does everything have to be spelled out to the viewers, as if they are little kids? If the script is any good, you should be able to feel the emotion for yourself, without help from the character. Does a character always have to breakdown and cry just because it’s a sad moment? What about when a character has to clue you in by telling you how he feels? For example, a character who’s anxious might say something like, “Gee, I hope everything’s going to be alright.” Now, I’m thinking that some of you might think this contradicts what I said earlier — yes, animated characters are supposed to be emotional by nature. However, it is not enough to just show a character giving off emotions like a bunch of Hallmark cliches with some J-pop in the background. Have you ever heard of dramatic irony? Anything Else? There are certain factors which cannot fairly be judged as having to do with quality, but make American animation more enjoyable for Americans to watch. How about all the pop-culture references made in American cartoons, but left out of Japanese animes? In my opinion, Japanese idiosyncrasies and folklore are no substitutions for this. And what about the voice acting? Most people agree that English dubs of animes are simply horrible, but what other choice is there? The non-Japanese-speaking anime fans will tell you that the voice acting is better in the originals. If they cannot understand it, how do they know? Listening to a bunch of gibberish you can’t understand with words flashing on the screen? You might as well be deaf! Some people like anime because it has more violence and sex than American animation. It touches subjects like death which a lot of American cartoons don’t.
This does not make it better in any logical sense. This should not even be an issue. What really matters is plot and character development. I don’t think having people drop like flies makes it any more realistic either. When it comes to character development, some Japanese animes have a lot of “flat characters”.
Well, I do realize that most characters from American cartoons are also flat. Even so, the character should have a strong and unique image with easily associable character traits. Instead, in Japanese anime, a lot of the characters are instead based off of exaggerated Japanese stereotypes, some of which make little sense and can even become irritating. Conclusion There you have it. I have shown you the strengths of American animation, and I’ve pointed out many flaws with the anime style used in Japanese animation. For some it may be easy to tolerate these flaws, but it’s important to know that you do not have to! Not if you want to find quality animation — you do not have to import videos from across the Pacific Ocean.
It’s closer than you think. It’s right here in America, and the funny things is, you’ve probably overlooked it. But it’s still there! Yes, you might find more selection in Japan, but that can change. All you have to do is show your support for the many great animators we have here and keep their dreams alive. Animation is the only great art-form that was born in America! It is worthy of respect.
Why not show your true pride for the red-white-and-blue? Recommended Reading Television: Critical Methods and Applications by Jeremy Butler, Ph.D. — Become a smart viewer! (they will give you a free copy to review if you can say you’re affiliated with an educational institution) — http://www.tcf.ua.edu/screensite/res/pub/tvcma/ Anime Otaku: Japanese Animation Fans Outside Japan by Annalee Newitz, Ph.D. (from Bad Subjects, Issue #13) — An in-depth analysis of the mind of an anime fan and what makes it tick. Scary stuff indeed! — http://english-www.hss.cmu.edu/bs/13/Newitz.html Beyond TV Safety: Serious Stuff by Scott Frazier — A Japanese anime-otaku insider who worked for ten years as a producer, animator, consultant, ect. gets a change of heart and spills dope on the evils of the industry.