Welcome one, welcome all! It’s that time of the year once again, where we wonder how we managed to spend all that holiday money already while steeling ourselves mentally for the inevitable hangover on New Year’s Day. For those of us who like to dabble in a bit of sakuga shenanigans, it’s also that time of the year where Kraker2k bullies us into compiling our thoughts on the shows and people who stood out most throughout the year, a process fondly dubbed as the Sakuga Bowl. While Kraker’s gotten old and doesn’t have it in him to take up the mantle anymore, the Sakuga Bowl has become an esteemed tradition, and thus the show must go on. This year’s show features not only familiar faces from years past, but other notable names who have been making a splash in the ever-growing sakuga pond this year; all in the name of luring our rivals into a false sense of security before we wipe them out bringing more voices to the table.
For those attending for the first time, the award process is split up into eight categories:
— Best Episode
— Best Show
— Best Movie
— Best OP
— Best ED
— Animator Discovery
— Unexpected Animation
Simple, yet effective. The only real guidelines this year were to try and keep each entry close to 500 words, solely due to the fact that last year’s was long (that went as well as you’d imagine). With that being said, let’s get this show started! Sit tight, approach the scorching ping pong girl if you’re feeling chilly, avoid the vomiting water goddess, and pray that the #1 hero can fend off the villain before we have to cancel everything.
How’s it going, sakuguys and sakugals?
Episode – Sansha Sanyou #01
In a year where everything seemed to go wrong, it was wonderful to be pleasantly surprised. What I initially thought of as “That one bread show that airs before New Game” became a genuine delight by its own merits. Leading in with crowd shots by the much revered Akira Hamaguchi, Sansha Sanyou managed to develop a living world in a stupidly short amount of time. Followed by an exciting bouncy display of good comedy and character animation, those freelancers and Dogakobo staff showed off in a spectacular fashion.
They are yet to apologise for their behaviour.
Show – Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho is an ideal example of what I’ve decided to dub “KamedAction™”.
Whilst it lacks the direct excitement we got from Yoshimichi Kameda’s work on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, his influence is always present, either as the character designer or as an animation director. Featuring cameos from veteran stars and new talent alike, Mob Psycho is exactly the “box of very fun surprises” that director Yuzuru Tachikawa foretold.
Movie – Shelter
As a solo animation project by Megumi Kouno and directed by Idolmaster colleague Toshifumi Akai, Shelter was the greatest surprise that 2016 had to offer. Megumi Kouno is a champion of character animation, working on many of the most exciting performance scenes within both The Idolmaster and Cinderella Girls. She’s someone who knows exactly how to capture absolute concentrated joy and this was a perfect example of that.
I originally wasn’t going to write about Twin Star Exorcists. I had this great paragraph about Space Patrol Luluco’s OP, but it feels rude to leave the elephant in the room without introducing him to everyone.
In a show that was mostly a waste of time, we were granted 90 seconds of worthwhile viewing before we repressed the show’s existence forever. Constructed by recent newsworthy superstars including my personal favourite Shun Enokido, this was 90 seconds of undeservedly exciting action as they rip about the environment like it’s a destructible playground. Don’t watch Twin Star Exorcists, but do watch the 90 second bit made by cool people who never ended up animating for the show itself.
Animator Discovery – Yuki Igarashi [五十嵐祐貴]
There were many champions of Mob Psycho. Yoshimichi Kameda himself, Hakuyu Go, the paint-on-glass animator Miyo Sato, Yutaka Nakamura…
However, among those that were being highlighted each week, the name “Yuki Igarashi” was entirely new to me. A brush paint enthusiast and someone whose entire learning process is available to scroll through on Tumblr, Igarashi was a welcome addition to Mob Psycho, key animating several prominent action scenes, even on the final episode. He’s not only a fantastic animator, but one that I feel represents the current day as someone who is active on social media, bringing the conversation online.
Unexpected Animation – Pokemon Sun and Moon
I’ve been a Pokemon fan for years, but it was only this year that I started getting interested in how it’s produced and the remarkable animators that have created some of the scenes that shaped my early interest in animation as a child. It’s an incredible feeling to know the names of the people that have had such an impact on something that has been a constant in my life.
Despite the animation friendly character designs and this new information, I never expected Sun and Moon to play out this well. This was a series that had Ash sliding across screens for many episodes and suddenly he’s become an animated character with an animated personality. It’s everything I wanted but never asked for. And frankly, those are the best gifts.
Recommended Show – Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World
I fucking love Konosuba. It’s a fun show that is only amplified by Koichi Kikuta’s carefree approach to corrections. Usually, you could describe a Chief Animation Director’s job to be to retain the spirit of the character designs and embrace a consistency throughout the episode. Kikuta doesn’t agree. In fact, even though he was the character designer, it was the episodes that he wasn’t in charge of that actually seemed to reflect the original design sheets the most. He just loves unrestrained unbridled animation. And I love both him and Konosuba for exactly that.
SakugaDaichi – [Twitter]
Episode – Gakusen Toshi Asterisk #16
Building from his work on the first half of this show, Takashi Torii delivered an episode that I’d say is on par with his magnum opus as an animation director previously (Katekyo Hitman Reborn #123). You can feel his touch everywhere in this episode but most prominently in the first half. It’s quite evident that he storyboarded, AD’d, Key Animated and even inbetweened for this episode. His own cuts in the episode were a culmination of all his experience with the Yutaka Nakamura influence with the impact frames and staging and the Masayoshi Tanaka influence in there with the character art. The animation elevated this episode into something really special and I was here for it.
Show – Yuri!!! On Ice
The main reason I was so excited by the prospect of Yuri!!! on Ice was how much I loved the ice skating scenes in Death Parade and Endless Night. I was happy to see a whole show devoted to skating and this was by far my favourite show this year. It really was a shame that the production kind of fell apart but at least what good skating animation we got was done very well with my favourite skating cuts being by Junpei Tatenaka.
Movie – Batman: Bad Blood
While I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing any of this year’s big anime movies, I did watch the other movie Kenichi Tsuchiya worked on besides Your Name. This was undoubtedly the best movie The Answer Studio did for WB this year. Kenichi Tsuchiya was the top credited animator and by the look of the action scenes you can definitely tell. The final fight between Batman and Nightwing had the same touch to it as Tsuchiya’s work on the climax of Children Who Chase Lost Voices. The former Walt Disney Japan animators put on their best show yet.
For this season of Jojo’s all the openings we had were quite good already, but when I first saw this one the background animation cut in it became my instant favourite. The song and visuals go together very well and Terumi Nishii’s design are very easy on the eye so this is a very easy opening to watch over and over.
Animator Discovery – Kazuto Arai [荒井和人]
My favourite new animator this year was effects animation superstar Kazuto Arai. This was all after just seeing his explosion cut from Macross Delta. The sheer impact and scale he imbued it with was what swept me up and after seeing more and more of his work my appreciation of his grasp of the mechanics of an explosion and how to exaggerate it’s impact has increased exponentially. Now I only know his work now because he had to correct me after a big blunder on my part but I’m glad he did because now I can see his versatility as an artist. For a newer animator to put out work on his level they truly have to be commended. He’s definitely a talent to watch.
Unexpected Animation – Toshiharu Sugie on Nanbaka
As quite possibly the biggest Toshiharu Sugie fan in sakuga fandom, I was optimistic but slightly apprehensive when I saw that Sugie was gonna be a Main Animator on Nanbaka. I wasn’t expecting much but when the show kicked into an unexpected tournament arc Sugie came out of nowhere to surprise even me. He did a lot of cuts, many of his best being in episodes he wasn’t credited on. Episode 4 was his peak, where he animated an absolutely fierce fire dragon and his best debris effects cut ever. Sugie showed off every aspect of his style on the episodes he worked on and I’m hoping he continues to go all out as the show enters its second half next year. This was the most surprising sakuga showcase for me, but since this is Toshiharu Sugie on a Satelight show, it’s to be expected at this point.
Recommendation – Mob Psycho 100
This show will undoubtedly be on most other people’s lists, but I have to recommend this as well. It was by far the most consistently well animated show this year that I watched. It featured some of the most interesting work by webgen regulars like Keiichiro Watanabe and Hiromitsu Seki who are both artists whose work I’ve come to really enjoy.
Kevin – [Twitter] < – Turbo noob, probably can’t beat Ys on Nightmare
Episode – Mob Psycho 100 #8 (Sound! Euphonium #5, The Great Passage #8)
Kameda’s magnum opus earned the top spot, a recognition so widespread I can allow myself to write about other spectacular outings. Instead I chose two of the most impressive episodes representing opposite approaches to animation. The Great Passage #8 sacrifices any polish for constant motion, an enchanting spectacle that is livelier than life itself. There might not be a reason behind every gesture, but their accumulation grants characters a soul. It was outsourced to Dogakobo, who have peaked this year when working on other studios’ productions – Kumamiko #3 was also an animation treat that surpassed their admittedly strong series like Sansha Sanyou . And on the other hand we have Sound! Euphonium #5, an equally overwhelming experience and seemingly impossible production feat for TV anime. Rather than a constant barrage, all movement here is obsessively calculated, an unbelievable mix of nuance and polish that lasts even during the long performance.
Show – Mob Psycho 100 (Euphonium, Occultic;Nine, Flip Flappers)
Creativeness as a central concept, animation woven into its narrative and enough production muscle for a TV anime not to painfully degrade rarely overlap. Mob Psycho should be treasured.
We’ve also been through an exceptional fall season, though. Euphonium deserves all the praise it’ll get and then some, as it once again displayed its consistent character acting mastery. Occultic;Nine has bruteforced its way into my list – but not my heart – through sheer production strength, despite suffering through Kanbe’s nightmarish boards. I wish I could wholeheartedly include Flip Flappers here as well, but in the end its production couldn’t live up to its inventiveness. It’ll leave behind sakuga festivals like #3 and downright masterpieces like #6 though, so a nod was due.
Movie – A Silent Voice, Kizumonogatari
Current industry trends are causing creators generally restricted to the latenight space to receive more theatrical projects, and there’s two clear winners in that field. I feel uncomfortable talking about A Silent Voice’s illusion of life, since that isn’t what I perceived; after a certain point it was impossible for me to parse the film’s character acting as an artificial concept, rather than a set of actions by sentient beings. I wouldn’t mind sacrificing Naoko Yamada’s presence on TV anime if it means more films like that. And while on that note, Oishi’s disappearance (alongside SHAFT’s aces) was entirely worth it considering what Kizumonogatari has become. The first film truly inhabited Araragi’s headspace all while delivering the most memorable cuts the franchise has ever seen. Its sequel lost some of that introspection and visual charisma but traded it for more quantity of animation, making it a lesser but still incredible experience.
Shout out to Doukyuusei’s charming mix of sensuality with goofy cartoony sensibilities, and also to the latest Precure film – Yuta Tanaka is one of the best action storyboarders few people know about, and Ken Ueno’s rounded designs led to the best character art in any Precure movie.
OP/ED – Do we count Toshifumi Akai and Megumi Kouno’s Shelter as a full-length opening? No? Then Twin Star Exorcists’ second opening
A fantastic sequence combining hectic action with intimacy, but also the embodiment of the new possibilities enabled by digital animation; Yama advances the tech with creation in mind, tearing down the wall between animator and photography artist. This is something I’ve already talked about, but he represents a bright future for anime.
Animator Discovery – Nakaya Onsen, Akiko Takase
My most treasured discoveries this time around are two up and coming animators. Before I was aware of Nakaya Onsen’s existence, their work already caught my eye during ちな’s directional debut – the sheer amount of motion, the consideration given to overlapping action, technically excellent work also imbued with character. Further appearances confirmed that was a name to pay attention to. Years ago I listed Kazuaki Shimada as my discovery, so seeing new interesting members being added to that crew is very satisfying.
And as a short note – not indicating she’s lesser, but because I’ve already covered her on the site – Akiko Takase is shaping up to be KyoAni’s new animation monster. Her illustration work already impressed, but seeing her striking transition into animation direction was one of my highlights of the year.
Unexpected Animation – Sailor Moon Crystal S3
A relative downside of being very acquainted with the industry is that it’s harder to be surprised. A single spectacular episode can sneak up on you, but for the most part the consistent gems are easy to spot. In that sense, nothing can even compare to Crystal – a sequel to a troubled production that was given new staff but ended up with a lineup of artists I’d consider functional at best. Management was the key this time around; unlike the original rushed production, this sequel was made so ahead of broadcast some animators forgot their work. A great deal of freelance talent showed up – Takashi Kojima, KenOh, Toshiharu Sugie – and alongside Toei figures like Kazuhiro Ota and Naotoshi Shida they managed to fill the series with excellent pieces of animation. It’s still not the ideal Sailor Moon adaptation since only Tomohiro Furukawa and Yukio Kaizawa’s episodes stood up to the visionary direction of the franchise’s peaks, but it turned out to be a very solid production.
Recommendation – Y’all should watch more short anime
Brevity is an assets for these shows so I’ll be concise too. A bunch of anime are overlooked simply due to their short length, kind of a crime considering some of them aren’t only immensely charming but also contain some of the industry’s most interesting talent, young and established. Give the Yama no Susumes, Aimaimis and Kiitaros a try. They deserve it.
Make sure to click page 2!