The Anime Debate
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Gilles Poitras (Author of The Anime Companion and the new Anime Essentials): The character movement in anime is not any lower in quality than most U.S. animation and often higher. The choreography in a TV show like Cowboy Bebop or theatrical feature like Perfect Blue are only two examples of this. As for static frames, there are not that many and they are often used to create what could be called an "illusion of cinema."

Faye and Spike from Cowboy Bebop, the futuristic adventures of an easygoing bounty hunter and his partners. © Bandai Entertainment.

This "illusion of cinema" is a good example of key differences between U.S. and Japanese animation theory. In the U.S., animators look back on the history of animation, often just animation in the U.S. and not that far back. In Japan anime is more of a cinematic art with directors observing the techniques of great live-action directors. Consider the concert sequences in the beginning of Perfect Blue or the opening sequence of You're Under Arrest. These are anime done as if shot from a camera. Even in older anime you find cinematic elements being used.

What first drew me to anime was the use of "camera" techniques in the Yamato series; which I saw in a store window in 1977. The only U.S. show I can think of that does this is The Simpsons "Halloween" specials, which parody cinema and therefore use the same techniques. As for the "illusion of life" I think anime comes much closer. You rarely see anyone move like an American animation character, even the ones in the better Disney movies. Exaggerated, overly energetic movements are not an "illusion of life." Slower sequences where people stand or sit and move little when they have a conversation are a better "illusion of life," found commonly in anime.

Cedric Littardi (Co-founder of the French AnimeLand magazine and creator of the country's first anime video label, Kaze Animation): How do you define good animation? Not by the budget, otherwise Titan A.E. wouldn't have failed. Not by the number of cels per second, as most of the best animators in our history were very limited in this matter. The brand new CGI programs prove that "state of the art techniques" are far from being as good as some of the more classical. There is no sure technical way to measure the quality of an animation. Animation is a combination of elements so diverse that only the final patchwork can be judged.

Disney's "illusion of life," has not much to do with the number of frames per second but is an overall result. Can anyone say that it is the same in The Jungle Book and Aladdin? There seems to be a very deep gap between the two. As such, there is no reason whatsoever that the "illusion of life" can be rendered only with very high budget animation. Animation is very clearly an art form and the final quality of artwork is frequently very different from the sum of its parts. The Japanese are no exception to this rule. Since the country has a very rich cultural background in the areas of stylization, graphic arts and storytelling, there is no reason why they cannot create a life of their own.

Director Satoshi Kon (Memories), special advisor Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Madhouse Studios' (Ninja Scroll) theatrical feature Perfect Blue was translated from Youshikazu Takeuchi's suspense-novel. © Manga Entertainment, Inc.

Maureen Furniss (Founding editor of Animation Journal and author of Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics): People often use the physical movement of animation as its primary qualitative measure. This is the case in part because of the dominance of Disney-style animation and the history of animation as an attraction that mystifies by recreating "real life." When animation does not seem to create "real" movement, its identity as a construct becomes clear. There's less wonder in looking at drawings that look like drawings on the screen than drawings that somehow look like they could be real. It's a little mind game that has been used to promote animation to the general public since the early days of film history, when animation was still categorized under the heading of "trick film" and audiences marveled at Winsor McCay's ability to make Little Nemo or Gertie the Dinosaur move. The aesthetic of Japanese animation, with its limited animation technique, is determined by many things including budget, but also cultural and conventional expectations of the art form.

If people are interested in studying the cultural components of Japanese animation, then I think the whole of Japan's production becomes much more interesting. When we limit ourselves to saying, "It doesn't look or act like what is produced by the most successful American studios," then we are pretty limited in our perspectives.

Mark Schilling: Traditional Japanese performance arts, such as Kabuki and Noh, are highly stylized forms that rely more on presentation than representation for their effects. In Kabuki, sword-fighting scenes are akin to dance, with the swords of the two opponents barely touching, let alone clashing. Also, in Kabuki the most dramatic moments are considered to be stylized poses that the lead actor holds while the audience applauds and shouts its approval. Flow, in short, is less important than form. In much of Japanese animation, particularly the sci-fi variety, there is more emphasis on the grotesquely comic or operatically dramatic gesture -- the worlds-colliding climaxes in the Dragonball series being one example -- than on so-called realistic movement.

Charles Solomon (Film critic for the LA Times and author of animation books including The Disney that Never Was): It should be borne in mind that there is no tradition of Disney style acting and lip synch in Japan. Some anime films look strangely limited to Western audiences, but they don't to Japanese viewers. The animators and directors use conventions to get around the limits of the animation, just as their American counterparts do. Americans are simply used to one set of conventions: is it any odder to have a character hang in mid-air with his feet and legs revolving, then whip him off screen in a fast pan, than to have a character turn into a "super-deformed" child version of himself when he behaves childishly?


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