Anime Craft Weekly #32: Good Bad Art, Bad Good Art – Sakuga Blog
Anime Craft Weekly #32: Good Bad Art, Bad Good Art

Anime Craft Weekly #32: Good Bad Art, Bad Good Art

Let’s have a serious talk about the appreciation of art based off this season’s most profound and rich title. Kemono Friends, of course.

If you pay attention to seasonal anime and the reactions of the Japanese fandom to it, chances are that you’ve noticed a certain title garnering tons of attention. And even if you don’t quite follow that sphere, there have been so many western thinkpieces and attempts to explain the phenomenon to raise awareness about it. Long story short, Kemono Friends is a low profile anime based off a defunct smartphone game; this isn’t just an amusing anecdote, since the show depicts life after a vague cataclysm ended the previous civilization – hence after the game, sort of. Despite this post-apocalyptic concept, the series is actually very heartwarming, constructed in a way that could be easily aimed at children if it weren’t for the detail that it airs around 2 am. The mix of intriguing and sometimes flat-out unsettling implications and the very sincere, positive adventure is quite special, so it’s no wonder that it’s caught this much attention.

There’s a catch, however. To put it mildly, Kemono Friends isn’t an impressive production. If I were blunt I would call it an absolute mess for a professional product. There are no end to the issues you could isolate in regards to the craft. The 3DCG models could almost get a pass, were it not for the fact that they keep on clipping with the environment and with their own selves. The aesthetic clash between them and the stylized 2D backgrounds is no joke either, they clearly don’t inhabit the same space. And speaking of the scenery, the show struggles really hard at keeping a consistent sense of scale, with the surroundings seemingly reshaping with each shot. The movement is floaty, capable of neither acceleration nor impact. The whole thing feels like an independent/graduation project, and the truth is not that far off from that. The director Tatsuki belongs to an indie crew, while the animation director Yoshihisa Isa supervising the entire series has no previous credits in the industry. The show they’ve been making is undoubtedly charming, but it’s also very poorly put together. Blatantly so. To the point that no matter the visual literacy of the viewers, they will notice it’s a very weak attempt. So what if people enjoy the series because of that, rather than in spite of it?

That theory is easy to support. Much like its cast, Kemono Friends feels like a helpless animal you can’t help but cheer for. It’s too much of an earnest effort to appear like it’s knowingly exploiting its visual weaknesses, but intent doesn’t really matter here. There are scenes that are undoubtedly more amusing due to the bizarre comedic timing of floaty CGi, and the overall package comes off as weirdly charming. And this can be the launching platform for interesting broader arguments. Can rough anime have an inherent advantage over polished productions? If you look at it conceptually, of course. Intent does become an important factor in this case, since it’s deliberately coarse art that tends to understand how to weaponize its unique, subversive appeal. That is a massive argument entailing art as a whole though, so I’d like to scale it down to the actual anime industry. Are our cartoons more effective when they’re rough?

Well…no. Not at all. The idea that polish suffocates expression in anime is a disingenuous attempt to discredit excellent projects people happen to dislike – sure that looks nice, but what that just means it’s soulless! The industry does have a problem with characters that feel inert, but projects that try to sacrifice any acting in favor of pretty drawings at the end of the day can’t even achieve their misguided goal; this should be no surprise, you wouldn’t expect creators who don’t really understand the appeal of animation to succeed. Thoroughly corrected anime that feels notoriously lifeless is so rare I struggle to come up with exceptions, and Love Live! (the movie in particular) is the only major case I can think of in recent years. And even then it’s not as if the level of polish itself is at fault; what makes the characters robotic is the lack of proficient character animators and people who can conceptualize their actions as people, not the abundance of skilled supervisors and having enough time for them to do their job. It’s generally the other way around – the few projects graced with strong staff and schedules that allow them to put extra care into their work end up being the most vivid and articulate depictions of life. An animation director’s objective isn’t to restrict every drawing to the design sheets, but to ensure the quality of the animation. By and large, that’s what their corrections entail. Implying that when they’re in environments that allow them to properly do their job the results are worse isn’t only wrong, it’s a very nasty attitude.

I’ve been dancing around the issue and trying to be careful with the wording, but the other major problem here is that anime fans are notoriously bad at judging the quality of the craft. Any off-model frame causes an uproar on the internet, with fans yelling about it being cheap and poorly made. When idiosyncratic animators clash with intransigent fanbases you get meltdowns that last for many years – I feel like some people will never get over Naruto Shippuden 167, which is still a fantastic spectacle as far as I’m concerned. When an animator like Tamotsu Ogawa simulates wild pencil strokes and deforms the drawings, he doesn’t do it because he’s suddenly forgotten how to draw. He does it because he’s attempting to create an effect that standard tools can’t achieve. And while this is mostly a problem with fans who don’t tolerate weird animation, it sadly goes both ways. Masaaki Yuasa masterfully altered perspective and toyed with unique registers as an animator already, and those have become major assets in his projects as director as well. That’s why despite having led some of the best animated TV anime of all time like Tatami Galaxy, you’ll find plenty of people who say his work is poorly drawn. But even his genius is susceptible to this industry’s messy state, and when it came to Ping Pong his team had to work under such awful conditions that the results were unsatisfactory; it was particularly apparent during the TV broadcast, which was missing entire cuts, had to loop animation to make up for it, and was in dire needs of corrections all around. It was frankly bizarre to see something conceptually strong but heavily limited by the execution being held on the same draftsmanship level as his previous projects by a non-trivial number of viewers. If you want a more recent example, KonoSuba gets the same reactions (for the good and for the bad) whenever Kikuta’s loose pen is supervising and when there’s a simply poorly drawn episode – “this is off-model” is the only thing that is considered, all nuance is lost. Please don’t assume that all people who enjoy unique visuals are immediately more knowledgeable than fans who reject art that deviates from the norm. The poor grasp of anime’s production is a more widespread issue. And addressing that, with the ultimate goal of enhancing your experience, is still the main reason this site exists.

The mandatory disclaimer after all of this is that I’m talking on technical terms, of course. Your preferences will never be wrong, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Do I believe Kemono Friends is just intentionally using techniques that could be perceived as poor by the untrained eye, then? As if! I don’t even believe it’s more effective than a potential equivalent manufactured by much more capable creators; sure we might lose these magical moments where the comedy is boosted by the hilariously bad craft, but the potential gains of thoroughly competent execution would be much greater. But the show has allowed me to talk about a couple of important topics, and it’s been very amusing to get away with an article about goddamn Kemono Friends in a site meant to highlight outstanding animation.
すごーい!たーのしー!


And for the record, I really do like Kemono Friends.

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23 Comments on "Anime Craft Weekly #32: Good Bad Art, Bad Good Art"

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BlueWaveSmithy
Guest

Recently started watching “Kemono Friends” and for me, it’s been a peculiar show where I’m not entirely sure if it’s actually quite clever & cute or plain weird & childishly simplistic? Or maybe allof those?
Thinking of your above writings, I guess its spirit does shine through and make you root for it regardless of it’s clunky animation.

Videogamep
Guest

I know what you mean about people’s reactions to Konosuba. People complain about the animation all the time, but I always got the impression that the loose look and off-model faces were intentionally that way to support the comedy. I’m still not a huge fan of the animation style in Naruto Shippuden 167, though. Everything was a little too deformed for me and it killed the mood of the fight sometimes.

RonSnow
Guest

On the case of KonoSuba, the drawings sre intentionally ugly since they are depecting awful people, but lol off model.

RonSnow
Guest

And Wakabayashi and Yuasa tried to depict human nature, which is ugly as hell too.

AniHunter
Guest

Can you blame them though? Studio DEEN has built up a reputation of being unintentionally crap that when they try to be deliberate, it’s treated no different than if it were something like Ginga Dentsu Weed.

Reuizi
Guest
LOL kemono friends in SakugaBlog HAHAHAHA, somebody jelly the magnificent sakuga heaven of kyoani product is not on the top, to assume someone think the animation is good is ughhh…… even we all fan think its bad, but this bad / un polish animation what make it easy to make fun with, and people make fun of it with MEME (in a positive/good way) which spread like wild fire in 2chan and twitter this attract more people to watch it again after they drop it at ep1, and love it that it actually have really good storytelling, the little by… Read more »
Friend
Guest

The article says no one could think the animation is good.

wst
Guest

Plot is overrated

Kida
Guest
It’s something that has kept me away from the show, the animation. I am fine with badly animated shows (as long as they have something else to back it up) and I keep hearing it’s a great comedy anime, but this CGI-that-imitates-anime that looks choppy just turns me off so much. I’m not entirely opposed to CGI, I’ve seen some great stuff done in it (stuff like Jojo’s OPs and Show By Rock’s concerts) and I don’t mind it just being there to cut costs, but I guess I’m one of those that appreciates looks too much over other stuff.… Read more »
@theonik2006
Guest

Finally the article we’ve all been paying for.

Forget941
Guest
I do agree that some anime fans are bad judging animation and art, especially when they confuse the two, but I feel it’s hard to blame them. I feel as though the environment Western audiences grew up in, helped in nurturing this lack of knowledge. Seeing as most American made animated series and movies have a high consistency on being on model, almost too much. I think this helped raise people’s expectations on what an animated show should look like. I also believe it’s harder for people to discern intent when it comes to art, especially when bad productions in… Read more »
SStefania
Guest
I don’t mind CG anime as much as other weebs I know, as long as it’s entertaining. GoPri movie had two beautiful CG segments, and I really liked the ending in the series. I recently watched both seasons of Tesagure and while it looks poor, the writing of these Self Aware Parody(TM) parts is funny and clever, while ad-lib parts are even better than in Gdgd Fairies (and longer, and more varied too!). Tesagure and Gdgd are also full of shots that make excellent reaction images. This is my main problem with Kemono Friends – comedy is not very funny,… Read more »
Waitwhat
Guest

Kemono Friends does hinge on comedy: it’s a part of several things blended together. It’s a simple adventure story with cute girls with designs that are fun to draw, a setting that’s easy to make jokes off and overall a fun experience to discuss with others who are into it.

The overall atmosphere despite the low budget pretty much resonated with the late night anime audience and resulted in becoming this season’s best seller (and filled up Japan’s zoos)

Uh546
Guest

Just a slight error in the article “Kemono Friends is a low profile anime based off a defunct smartphone game”. If you read the interviews here with the producer and director:
http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20170225-00010003-bfj-ent
http://pastebin.com/D8bg5Kxu
The anime isn’t “based off” the game as such but was developed as part of a multimedia franchise whereby the manga, game and anime all had separate interpretations of the concept created by Mine Yoshizaki and were developed separately in tandem rather than one being based off of any other.

akari_house
Guest
Kemono’s director Tatsuki was previously the animation director for all three series of Tesagure Bukkatsumono, which had some interesting satire of traditional anime techniques in a number of episodes. I don’t think it’s really fair to view this sort of cheap indie series the same way as traditional anime, in any case. Tesagure-type works were created using tools like MikuMikuDance and are an extension of that impressively fast-growing community. I’ve watched several dozen (probably a lot more than that, come to think) MMD stories made by indie creators with no animation training whatsoever who have learned to still find it… Read more »
JohnDoe
Guest

Reading this just strengthens my belief that anime “fans” don’t even know what they want in an anime. Some fans say they despise CG but at the same time loved shows like Knights of Sidonia. Also how fans want masterpiece animation that they lose their mind over the smallest mistake but at the same time enjoyed Ninja Slayer.

One thing that continuously fables me on how hell-bent fans are to stop still frames in anime especially when studios like A-1 does it, but when studios like KyoAni or Ufotable does it everything is a-ok.

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