Sakuga Highlights: Week 9

Sakuga Highlights: Week 9

It would certainly be easier to talk about things other than Mob Psycho if it stopped having these outrageously strong episodes. How insensitive of them, not considering the feelings of lesser productions that struggle to appear in this column.

Last week I talked about the voice of animators and the fact that some people’s art had notoriously higher presence than average. As if on cue, Kameda came back in a major way to Mob Psycho to remind all of us that very few artists – if any, if you narrow it down to the crowd available to work on TV anime – have as much visual charisma as he does. His snappy timing took a bit of a backseat this time in favor of the drawings themselves; distinct lineart has been a recurring theme in the series, but Kameda takes it to a whole new level. His work is as striking in motion as it is through screenshots, a privilege for exceptional artists. I even saw some fans who mistakenly believed the b&w scene was the return of Miyo Sato’s paint-on-glass techniques, but much like last week she didn’t work on the episode at all. It’s an understandable confusion though, since Kameda’s wild pencil achieves a relatively similar effect.
His supervision work this time felt particularly noteworthy. Comparing it to the sadly obscure Anime Mirai 2014 short Paroru’s Future Island seems to show a personal evolution as an artist. Back in Paroru, Kameda was an overpowering animation director. The entire film feels like it was key animated by him, even though all he supposedly did was correcting other people’s drawings. And don’t get me wrong, that means it looks fantastic! But when compared to this episode of Mob Psycho you realize he might have hit the sweet spot now; the whole episode is again distinctly Kameda, and yet you can feel the hand of different artists. Your mileage may vary in this regard, but as far as I’m concerned that’s the ideal balance – strong sakkan presence that doesn’t completely drown all the animators’ voices.

Mob Psycho’s action has been impressing me as of late, and perhaps not in the way you would immediately assume. Saying that the fights are cool is an understatement; they aren’t necessarily the focus of the series, but they’re undeniable highlights. The webgen madness in episode 5 and this week’s confrontation in particular have truly memorable sequences, even if the fights themselves aren’t as long and fully fledged as a truly action-focused anime would be. And yet as spectacular as they are, they’re ugly – in many senses of the word, but all positive I swear! For starters there’s the willingness to stray from standard styles, which the anime has inherited from ONE. The designs aren’t what would usually be perceived as aesthetically pleasing, and the way they’re drawn probably feels too atypical for the more narrow-minded viewers. This obviously applies to the fights as well, where the art tends to become even looser. But beyond these pure draftsmanship elements, the fights are conceptually dirty as well. As people are hit, bodily fluids fly everywhere; blood, spit, tears. The pain causes faces to contort and deform in grotesque ways. Hiroyuki Okiura might be one of the most expressive character animators in the industry, and one of his main principles is that emotions – especially negative ones, like pain – aren’t always beautiful. Much like his instantly recognizable crying faces, Mob Psycho’s expressions of pain are rather unattractive – and that’s what makes them work.
This approach feels particularly appropriate on a confrontation like this week’s. Mob wasn’t traditionally overpowered, he lost to a vile person playing dirty. An adult dealing brutal hits to a child should make viewers feel uncomfortable, so making it unpleasant on all levels feels more congruent. To a lesser degree this applies to Mob and Teru’s duel from a few weeks ago as well; it wasn’t a clean battle neither visually nor conceptually, as one of the sides rejected the conflict to begin with and refused to fight back. These are nasty fights and thus they should look nasty. There’s nothing wrong with action simply being spectacular, but if that clashes with your message you could end up glorifying a conflict you condemn. Imagine an anti-war series where the audience’s reaction was nothing but discussions about how cool and badass the robot fights were. Wait, did I say imagine?

And this brings us nicely to the scene that I found most impactful, this brutal pummeling. The contrasting sensibilities in the animation there made it my personal highlight, despite the much flashier cuts present in the episode. That degree of looseness tends to belong in cartoony violence, where elasticity can be part of the joke; stretchy bodies belong in a similar category to eye multiples and a big hole on the ground after a huge drop: extreme exaggeration treated as inherently amusing. Being obviously unaffected by the laws of physics and having no grounding in reality almost reassures the viewer – they don’t have to be concerned, there won’t be consequences to this scene. Gritty violence on the other hand tends to be depicted through realistic pieces of animation; generally slower, more mindful of momentum, sprinkled with gruesome imagery. Anything it takes to unsettle the audience and make them feel like those brutal acts are truly happening. Scenes like this one on Mob Psycho, presumedly animated by Tomohiro Shinoda, subvert all these tendencies; they achieve a particularly effective result through a less direct route, applying cartoony elements to a genuinely impactful sequence. Without strong motion fundamentals and attention to detail, the entire scene would fall apart. If you take the exaggeration too far it loses its punch – literally – and if you make it too restrained you get an offputtingly stiff sequence. Balance is key, especially when dealing with opposite sensibilities! And again, like many aspects of Mob Psycho that I have been praising, it’s not as if they invented this approach. The show’s tricks aren’t always new, it’s just damn good at executing them.

Honestly, I could go on for way longer about this fantastic episode. Scenes like the literal gap that had opened between the siblings won me over, but I’d rather stop here and keep the post relatively focused. Mob Psycho is a damn good cartoon has been a nice theme for this week’s post. Again.

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If you have any more insight into the production of Orange, I’d be interested in that. I love as much Mob as I can get, as well as a look into other great productions, but it’s also pretty interesting to get a look at the other side of things.