A Look at the Sakuga and Animation of 2016

A Look at the Sakuga and Animation of 2016

paeses – [Twitter]

2016 was a great year for Sakuga fans. Not only was it filled with really cool projects, but many new talents started to shine, too. I even had the extra pleasure of hunting for NC work from Hironori “TNK” Tanaka. Let’s not forget Nozomu Abe’s output this year; from being the best on the Accel World movie, to his surprising involvement on Hai-furi, as well as helping his old time friend Yasuomi Umetsu on all his cool OPs. I can’t wait to see him blow minds on Heaven’s Feel (hopefully).

Episode – Mob Psycho 100 #08

This is a showcase of Yoshimichi Kameda’s great AD work and how beautifully he can correct the work of others with his iconic sketchy and rough lines, which are a rarity nowadays. What makes the episode even better is the range of talent who worked in it, from youngsters to industry legends. In addition, it made me notice Yuuta Kaneko, whom I’ll be keeping my eye on in the future. liborek3 did a great analysis of the episode, which you can check here.

Show – Tales of Zestiria the X

There’s other shows that impressed this year (Haikyuu!! S3 & Occultic;Nine), but others are likely to talk about them. Therefore, I’ll talk about the amazing efforts of ufotable’s staff on Tales of Zestiria the X, which honestly took me surprise. ufo’s best animation staff – Masayuki Kunihiro and Go Kimura, specifically – and director of photography Yuuichi Terao come together to deliver an incredibly polished show as well as plenty of spectacular action. As much as I love ufo’s work in general though, the heavy use of digital effects for elements such as smoke, debris and water really bothered me, something I hope they’ll cut down on in the future.

Movie – Garo Divine Flame

Last year I talked about Sunghoo Park, an upcoming animator who managed to blow our minds with his work on Garo #18. I knew we were going to see great things from him, and great things are exactly what we got. He served as both the storyboard artist and action animation director for the movie, which delivered on all fronts thanks to both his efforts and those of the solid animator lineup. Funnily enough though, his corrections are so noticeable that it almost feels like he solo’d the movie on his own. In terms of the storyboards, his action made solid use of each animator’s potential, though it was obvious the CG team were struggling to keep up, haha. His career’s only just taking off, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he fares in 2017.

OP – Yuri!!! On Ice

The skating in this OP was better than all of the skating sequences in the show; not only is it refined, it also features really interesting linework, and it’s beautifully choreographed to the tune of the song. Add the fact that it’s a solo work by my man Sunghoo Park, and it just does not get any better than this.

Animator Discovery – Kazuto Arai [荒井和人]

Arai is the definition of a young talent, especially as he graduated from Tokyo Institute of Technology, which has zero ties to animation. He started working on his own projects in 2009, and got his first job doing in-betweens in 2013. After that, he was employed by Trigger until he became a freelancer in 2015, which happens to be when he first got the opportunity to handle key animation. Then we got to see him doing major effects scenes, which are usually handled by the big names in the industry. His work on Gate #17 is what made me take notice of him, which I consider his best work of the year. He’s only just started, yet his output this year was incredible, so I’m sure we’re in for a lot more from him.

Unexpected Animation & Recommendation – Konosuba

Even with Koichi Kikuta on-board, no one expected a show like this to have such lovely animation. We were wrong, though, because with the help of Kazunori Ozawa and Shinya Takahashi we got something special, and probably the funniest show of 2016. Don’t take it from me, though. Just watch it. You definitely won’t regret it.

Jimmy Gnome – [WMC / Twitter]

Episode – Tiger Mask W #4

Koudai Watanabe did incredible work on his Tiger Mask W episode alongside Haruka Kamatani, working as animation director while providing 110 cuts of key animation. The series’ rough line art suits Watanabe well, and he takes the gruffness a step further by rendering injury and disfigurement in unsightly detail. The way he depicts Tiger Mask’s weighty kicks and Red Death Claw’s splattering of bodily fluids really bring out the passion that makes wrestling so appealing, the kind of feeling this anime thrives on.

Show – Hibike! Euphonium 2

It might seem like a boring pick in a year with shows like Mob Psycho and Flip Flappers, especially considering it’s more or less the same as the first season animation-wise, but what’s wrong with more of a good thing? Euphonium 2 is another sterling piece in KyoAni’s oeuvre, further evidence that the studio is far ahead of the competition when it comes to consistent and high quality animation production. Furthermore, it is easily the most emotionally aligned anime of 2016; the convincing acting and motion brought about by the drawings carry the show’s characters and themes in a way few shows can.

Movie – Kizumonogatari

The first two parts of Kizumonogatari have finally been released after years of anticipation and they are well worth the wait. Far removed from director Tatsuya Oishi’s more abstract Bakemonogatari, Kizu relishes in extremely detailed character acting and visceral action scenes. This lavish production is headlined by studio regulars Genichirou Abe, Ryo Imamura, and Yuuya Geshi at the top of their game, making it hard to deny that this is the peak of the Monogatari franchise as well as SHAFT’s animation prowess. No room for slideshow complaints here.

Also shout outs to Doukyusei, one of my favorite films of the year and the only time that Takeshi Honda has drawn two boys making out (that I know of).

OP – Chi’s Sweet Adventure

It’s no surprise that the OP of the newest iteration of Chi’s Sweet Home, a 3DCG short, has gone under most people’s radars, which is a shame considering the wide spectrum of Japanese animators represented in it. Masanobu Hiraoka, Yoko Yuki, Ryoji Yamada, Shiho Eguchi, and Tetsuya Tatamitani are all credited as key animators and the brilliant action animator Kenichi Kutsuna directs. The result is a mix of different distinct styles that you wouldn’t usually see in a show of this kind, but it still maintains a certain unconventional consistency that suits Perfume’s electro pop tune perfectly.

ED – Flip Flappers

Series director Kiyotaka Oshiyama animated the adorable ED to Flip Flappers himself and it manages to be the character acting highlight of the entire show. Papika and Cocona’s movements, bouncy and expressive, are far displaced from their usual rigidness as seen in the episodes proper, giving me fantasies of Oshiyama acting as an AD on the show.

Animator Discovery – Miyo Sato [佐藤美代]

While Mob Psycho 100 was perhaps the most stylistically varied production this year its most significant staff member must have been Miyo Sato, the Gedai Animation graduate who specializes in paint-on-glass animation. It’s fascinating that such an idiosyncratic creator can find a place in commercial animation these days, much less on television, but her work certainly suited the eccentric nature of Mob Psycho perfectly. She let her creativity flow through ephemeral ghouls, psychedelic effects, and even grounded character acting. Hopefully her success encourages more mainstream projects featuring non-traditional animators in the future.

Unexpected Animation – Amanchu

While the series isn’t as impressive in terms of animation as other heavy hitters from this year, Amanchu managed to be surprisingly competent throughout its summer airing. Youko Itou’s detailed character designs capture the spirit of Kozue Amano’s art well but seem like they wouldn’t transition into animation effectively. Fortunately that’s not the case; Futaba and Hikari are brought to life through graceful and nuanced character animation. Futaba’s hair, in particular, is the subject of some impressively fluid highlights.

Recommendation – Pokemon Sun and Moon

The newest iteration of the Pokemon franchise was met with resistance by series fans when the looser, cartoony designs were first revealed, but now that we’re a ways into the show it seems the general consensus has been really positive even among non-sakuga folks. For those interested in animation it’s an absolute must, though, featuring a flair previously unseen in the franchise. If there’s one thing I learned this year about anime it’s that kids shows are the best, and Pokemon Sun and Moon is great evidence in support of that.

Joey – [Twitter]

Episode – Mob Psycho 100 #8

It’s kind of impossible to pick out an episode that stands above the rest in a series like Mob Psycho, but #8 features nothing but amazing animation by the industry’s best. The return of Yutaka Nakamura was welcome, with his masterful camera movement and the integration of impact frames making it stand out as a series highlight. Naoto Abe’s frame modulation and smears make every hit feel impactful, and Tomohiro Shinoda’s use of squash-and-stretch coupled with his expressive character acting really sells Mob’s struggle during the fight. Kameda needs to do AD on every show from now on.

Show – Mob Psycho 100

What else could I possibly choose? The Dandy dream team was a bit limited on One-Punch Man, but Mob’s relatively simplistic art style brings us the Nichijou effect: easy-to-draw characters enable animation to take the spotlight. While Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston defined animation as “the illusion of life,” the insane moments Mob provided seem to speak to a sort of afterlife. With the supernatural being the core of the show’s narrative, it’s only fitting to use an otherworldly medium to represent otherworldly entities. And the team did so with flying colours.

Movie – Redline

Yes, I’m aware Redline isn’t a 2016 film. But considering I didn’t get to see A Silent Voice this year and didn’t enjoy Kizumonogatari or Your Name, and the fact that I finally got to see Koike’s masterpiece after putting it off for so long, it’s only fitting that Redline takes the spot. The movie contains some of the finest animation ever put to film. Constant movement is used for constant expression: no cuts look remotely similar and it’s just a complete privilege to watch. JP’s right – life is overrated. Animation is much better.

OpeningMob Psycho 100

Everything about this opening just owns. The song is fantastic, but just look at it. From the pristine colour composition to Kameda’s jaw-dropping opening cut done completely in linework, the Mob OP is a sight to behold.

EndingMob Psycho 100

It’s almost like Mob is the only show I watched this year, huh? Really, the show did everything right, and that extends to Miyo Sato’s incredible ending sequence. It’s surprisingly intimate, using warm colours and focusing on Reigen before he met Mob, and seeing every movement play out like brushstrokes makes this ending something unique and truly special.

Animator Discovery – Miyo Sato [佐藤美代]

I don’t think we can overstate how good of an idea it was for the Mob team to scout recent Geidai graduates for work on the show. And also how important productions like Mob are for animators that normally wouldn’t stand a chance in such a homogenized, mainstream industry. Sato’s style appears to draw heavily on Alexander Petrov’s impressionistic work on projects such as My Love and The Mermaid, though used for different purposes, as Sato’s cuts are some of the most macabre in the show. Giving her the opportunity to appear front and centre so often, complete with her own ED, just further proves that the best stuff in anime is coming from the women in the industry.

Unexpected Animation – Re:Zero

It’s unfair to go into Re:Zero expecting a show with the visual ingenuity of Mob or Ping-Pong, but I was genuinely impressed by a lot of the action sequences it had to offer. That’s what a KyoAni-raised director gets you I suppose. The first episode alone had some great sequences of rotation and lovely effects animation, and that just continued – for the most part – as the show went on, with Rem’s arc being a particular highlight.

Recommended Show – Yuri!!! On ICE

I had to talk about Sayo Yamamoto’s latest work somewhere here, but unfortunately, just like Fujiko Mine and Michiko and Hatchin, Yuri suffered some… unfortunate production problems. The show is kind of a mess visually, and even on a structural level. And yet it’s easily my second favourite 2016 show. Yuri serves as yet another intersectional feminist series from the anime feminist herself, providing a supremely important queer text for an industry which has its issues with LGBTQ representation. It even makes a couple of nods to some of the animation greats, like Lotte Reiniger and Yuriy Norshteyn, too, which were really neat to see!

liborek – [Twitterボンズ最高

Episode – Mob Psycho 100 #8

Unlike some of my colleagues (heh heh), I’ll be very honest and will probably provide the least unexpected and interesting picks. Mob Psycho #8 is an episode that deserves to be framed and hung on a wall next to the likes of the best of Gurren Lagann, Star Driver and Space Dandy. Yoshimichi Kameda called a strong team of his comrades and delivered an episode that found the right balance between individuality and overall polish. While you can tell where an individual animator’s part begins and ends, it all blends together seamlessly under Kameda’s idiosyncratic animation direction. And when the line-up consists of Yoh Yoshinari’s disciple Yuuto Kaneko, Tetsuya Nishio’s disciple Tomohiro Shinoda, Kanada style expert Toshiyuki Sato and legendary action animator Yutaka Nakamura among others, you know you’re in for a treat.

Show – Mob Psycho 100

Most sakuga fans agree that Yoshimichi Kameda is without a doubt one of the most talented animators currently working in the industry, yet also constantly evolving. It was only a matter of time until he got the role of character designer on a TV series, and thankfully when it happened, he was blessed with an outstanding staff at the studio where he made his name known to begin with. Kameda decided not to take on the role of chief animation director; thanks to that, we got episodes like Gosei Oda’s or Kenichi Fujisawa’s, where each animator could show off their drawing styles to the fullest without worrying about pissing off the non-existent chief AD. Combined with many talented freelance animators, including a paint-on-glass artist Miyo Sato, the show was a delight to look at from the beginning till the end. As Kameda said on twitter – “not a single episode was sacrificed”.

Opening – Twin Star Exorcists OP2

As as I was getting worried where had Shingo Yamashita disappeared, this gem came straight out of nowhere and blew everyone’s minds. Yamashita gathered a team of young animators at studio Colorido to animate this sequence for an otherwise underwhelming studio Pierrot production, and delivered an opening more exciting than any other this year. Yamashita, who keeps on advancing the digital techniques in the industry, also was in charge the photography which enhanced the experience as far as I’m concerned.

Ending – Dimension W, Flip Flappers

It wouldn’t be a healthy year without at least one outstanding OP/ED sequence from Ryouma Ebata. This time I picked his work on the Dimension W ending. Exciting animation that perfectly matches the upbeat song by Fo’xTails combines into a sequence that I rewatch enthusiastically every time. Another one worth mentioning would be Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s Flip Flappers ending. Adorable animation and fairy tale-like song make this a must-watch.

Animator Discovery – Shohei Nishijima [西島翔平]

Nishijima is a BONES Animation Department alumni. Despite already being promoted to animation director at BONES’ D studio last year, his first work that caught the eyes of animation fans was his key animation on Show By Rock#’s episode 7, where he handled the emotional climax. His drawings are very detailed, unafraid of occasional exaggerations. His hair animation in particular is the selling point, very reminiscent of Megumi Kouno’s works. He later animated a couple more scenes showcasing this strong point of his. I also recommend to check out his magazine illustrations, where he is sort of showing off.

Unexpected Animation – Pokemon Sun & Moon, My Hero Academia #12

Pokemon’s animation designs have been getting updated and changed since the very first series, but they never went through such a massive and controversial reinvention as this year. They’ve become more animation friendly and allow for goofier movement and more cartoony deformations. It was a very risky move from the creators, but a one that I’m glad happened. The opening featured works of animators such as Shingo Fujii and Yoshimichi Kameda, the latter being a big surprise which fits this category. My second pick is HeroAca’s twelfth episode. Given the importance of the fight between All Might and Noumu, people expected some outstanding animation, but I doubt anybody predicted that outburst of young talent.

Recommendation – The Great Passage

Sometimes, people associate the sakuga community’s appreciation only with flashy cuts – mainly bombastic action setpieces, scenes with smeary deformations and other traits that go against the usual staticity of japanese TV anime. Funo wo Amu is a series that doesn’t feature that. Most of the show was supervised by Hiroyuki Aoyama, one of the top character animators in the industry. He ensured the show’s animation was full of subtle movement even in the most normal scenes. The show’s normal state wasn’t static with highlights but animated, even if the motion and drawings were far from perfect.

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FierceAlchemist
Guest
FierceAlchemist

Glad to see this series on here. Mob Psycho 100 was the standout Sakuga series for me as was Episode 8. Nakamura’s cut in that episode was breathtaking.

I’ve seen a huge growth in the Sakuga community over the past year and this blog has been a bright part of that. Can’t wait to see what cool Sakuga 2017 has in store to us with LWA and the other big shows.

RonSnow
Guest

I really liked the post! I’m going to give my choices [without argument] just for fun, and to see how i have [or didn’t have] similar tastes to your guys: Overall Show: Mob Psycho 100, Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt Episode: Naruto Shippuuden #476-#478 [Hiroyuki Yamashita SB and ED on #476 and #477, Yamashita AD along with Kouda, Kitada, Kawabata and Imai on #476, Yamashita AD along with Megumi Tomita, Kitada, Kawabata and Imai on #477, Tsuru x Hiroto Tanaka SB/ED/AD/KA on #478], Osomatsu-San #18 and Mob Psycho 100 #5 [SB’d/Directed/Sakkan’d by Ken’ichi Fujisawa] Movie: Kizumonogatari OP: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu… Read more »

qwertq
Guest
qwertq

Surprised at the very few mentions of Sound! Euphonium. Also, while I agree that the animation of Mob Psycho 100 was impressive I didn’t like the art style and outright disliked the story and characters. Good example how just good animation doesn’t make for a good show.

kViN
Admin

Eupho S2 #5 is the only non-Mob one with multiple nominations, and it got some votes for best series as well. For a year with a very clear winner it did well, a bit ahead of the rest with Fune wo Amu trailing behind. The real surprise as far as I’m concerned was Flip Flappers, I expected more love despite the production woes around the end.

Chad
Guest
Chad

I was expecting Eupho S2 #4 or #9 to show up.

Sigurðr
Guest
Sigurðr

Obligatory complaint because no one mentioned KonoSekai. (And barely any Doukyuusei…)

kViN
Admin

I’m the only writer who’d seen Koe and none of had seen KonoSekai (which I kinda doubt would be much of a contender as far as animation goes anyway?), Kizu was going to dominate this year no matter what. Looks like the category’s going to be an actual battlefield from now on which can only mean good things.

relyat08
Guest
relyat08

This is the coolest idea ever. I know I was following a couple of you guys last year, but I guess I missed the actual Best Animation of 2015 whenever that came around, so anyway, this is the first year I’ve had the pleasure. I’ll have to read through all of the old ones when I have a chance. 🙂

relyat08
Guest
relyat08
kViN
Admin

Nice list! And hey, yet another person falling for Kouno’s work. It keeps happening.

relyat08
Guest
relyat08

Indeed. She’s a real treasure. Thanks for reading my list. 🙂

Geronimo
Guest
Geronimo

Where is Tamerlane?

kViN
Admin

Resting in peace.

(As far as I know he’s just busy in real life so he got rid of his social media presence to focus more.)

Chad
Guest
Chad

I hope you’re also going to do a weekly analysis on Dragon Maid as well.