Yuri!!! On Ice has given us the chance to talk about what happens when TV anime production struggles, particularly when different broadcasts and distributions are concerned. A bit sad, but let’s turn it into an educational experience at least.
Saying that the anime industry has fundamental issues is a bit of an understatement, especially when referring to the portion in charge of latenight TV series – which doesn’t exactly equal the biggest slice when it comes to metrics like revenue, but by all means represents what western fans think of when hearing anime. If Shirobako did anything right, aside from being a wonderful show, it was raising awareness of certain common problems. I feel like at this point most fans have realized that TV anime being fully animated before the broadcasts starts is an exceedingly rare feat, and that even ample schedules are far from common. That said, part of the fandom is still stuck on the idea that episodes are produced on a week to week basis, hence why you have speculation about developments within a show being a consequence of the viewers’ reaction; something many creators likely wish was possible at all, considering the entire production cycle for a single episode spans months.
People might have thought that the aforementioned Shirobako’s hectic delivery of materials at the very last second was a dramatization, but the only part that was fiction was how they managed to make it a fun experience. Episodes cut it close with horrifying regularity, barely making it to the deadlines set by broadcasters and online platforms; which they can break, but that creates a new set of headaches – especially when it comes to the former, since availability is limited and TV slots cost money. Something that is important to understand, and extremely relevant to the examples I’m going to highlight, is that all these platforms have different deadlines depending on their circumstances. And if one of them happens to be slightly earlier, they might get sent a knowingly unfinished master. One day alone can make a big difference, and rather than creating new problems for themselves with delays for a single TV station/streaming site, slapping together an early version is seen as the lesser evil.
And that brings us to what happened to Yuri!!! On Ice last week. Many fans did notice something was off, but let’s recap it for those blissfully unaware and people simply not watching the series. It’s been public knowledge that the series is struggling on the production side ever since before the broadcast even started, as the pre-air event already raised warnings of unfinished footage; Sayo Yamamoto might seem cursed, but the truth is that she’s always been very ambitious as a creator while also taking risks on a business level with projects that might not have enough resources. This time it seems like she hit a goldmine, but future financial success won’t rescue a production handling a constant movement sport like skating and clearly not enough time. Last week the show took a turn for the worse, and in a seemingly unusual way to boot – the episode looked rough on TV, but moreso on Crunchyroll. I’m sure you can guess the reason at this point, though. It doesn’t sound particularly surprising that an online distributor that needs a bit of extra time to translate the episode would have a tighter deadline than a regular TV station like TV Asahi.
The changes themselves are extremely extensive, not due to their individual relevance but through sheer number; hundreds of cuts have been altered between the early version Crunchyroll got and the TV broadcast, half the episode is different in some way or the other. I find it rather amusing that it’s all way more significant than Regalia’s revamped broadcast months later, which we took a look at a while ago. Either way, this means there’s no point in reviewing every single instance, but there’s definitely some stuff to learn from it. One kind of change is immediately apparent: the composite is unfinished and simply wrong. That entails screens lacking elements like that, but more importantly very extensive lighting changes. Some effects are rough in ways I find particularly illustrative – at first sight you might think that the more finished version would have more visible postproduction work, but sometimes they quickly apply an effect and then tone it down when they have time. And yes, that’s the reason Crunchyroll’s earlier version has more fog in the baths, the site isn’t out to censor your beautiful men.
As you might have noticed in that last comparison though, plenty of scenes have been redrawn as well. Considering how they’re very late corrections and that their nature is mostly bringing them closer to the designs rather than fixing outright awful art, I think they might have been Tadashi Hiramatsu’s redraws as Chief Animation Director (総作画監督, Sou Sakuga Kantoku): Often an overall credit that tends to be in the hands of the character designer, though as of late messy projects with multiple Chief ADs have increased in number; moreso than the regular animation directors, their job is to ensure the characters look like they're supposed to. Consistency is their goal, which they will enforce as much as they want (and can).. Even the TV version is far from ideal, but his work manages to give more character to the series. There are also many attempts at fixing continuity errors; they range from a character being in the wrong country momentarily due to reused skating footage to flat out becoming the wrong skater for the same reason, as well as once again using the wrong clothes. Sadly, those still plague the TV broadcast, which is why I would rather not call that version finished either. Just about every other element you might think of suffered some changes as well, from background art being fixed so that a character faces the right wall to small layout alterations, all sorts of color corrections, and small cuts being added/removed. There’s quite the difference.
One of the reasons I decided to write this post is that this season we’re either blessed or cursed with a show that represents the opposite case of this particular issue Yuri!!! On Ice had. Even those of you who aren’t very acquainted with the production side of things might be aware that SHAFT is a mess. An irredeemable, long-running management mess. They are very used to broadcasts greatly differing, and some of their quickly put together unfinished masters have gone down in infamy. Even when somehow hanging in there, they have given up on finishing the Photography (撮影, Satsuei): The marriage of elements produced by different departments into a finished picture, involving filtering to make it more harmonious. A name inherited from the past, when cameras were actually used during this process. work in time for TV broadcasts, so you only get to see all the effects they planned to add to begin with once you watch the bluray. Their latest TV endeavor might be the biggest project the studio’s had on their hands – an adaptation of a popular manga like March Comes in like a Lion, airing on NHK-g of all channels; TV broadcasts are pretty much always a regional thing, which is why channels form their own networks to increase the coverage. Your average On Air page in an official anime site lists up to dozens of entries, as producers struggle to get as many areas as possible to watch the show, especially when it comes to places outside Tokyo. With NHK though, no such problem exists. The show still airs it late at night, but it does so everywhere.
How does that affect the messy production then? This time it’s the TV channel that has to be stricter with the deadlines, since failure to delivery would mean the entire country is affected. Rather than looking at the show itself, the most amazing effect here lies in the credits, which are astonishingly different on the NHK broadcast and on Crunchyroll. You might notice some extra key animators, but it truly gets wild when you see the 2nd key animation page… which flat out doesn’t exist on TV, as the clean-up is obviously done after the rough animation. The in-betweens credits hardly feel like the same episode at all, and tasks like painting, photography and special effects that are done even later down the line greatly differ as well. This has been happening every single week, since apparently even when barely finishing work in time they can’t afford to credit it all properly. We love you, anime. But you’re a mess.
Hopefully this one was informative, and as amusing as talking about people with painfully stressful jobs can be.
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