Even the most disastrous anime productions rarely become the laughing stock of the industry itself, but DYNAMIC CHORD had already managed that within a few weeks. But beyond the undeniably funny clips and examples of continuity errors there’s the very sad reality of the current industry. Because as its turns out, everything that went wrong in this project is just an extreme case of the issues plaguing anime at the moment. And those are worth getting acquainted with, if we ever want to do anything about them.
There’s an unwritten rule among anime industry members regarding public mockery of troubled productions. Any creator who has been around for long enough is aware that even the most gifted crews can watch their work tragically fall apart. It hasn’t been that long since Yatterman Night’s finale, an impressive effort involving some of the most promising animation talent of this generation, got artists to actually shed tears about the sorry state of their work; the episode was broadcast with lots of looped sequences that destroyed any flow, to make up for the fact that many scenes hadn’t been finished in time… something that not even the animators were aware of. It’s the many instances like that, alongside simple politeness, that generally stops industry members from openly making a fuss about production disasters.
As it turns out though, there’s a line. Even western sites like Anime News Network picked up on the fact that DYNAMIC CHORD has become a meme among Japanese fans, who make it go viral on a weekly basis as they poke fun at its countless defective scenes. What took me by surprise however was seeing industry regulars constantly joining in the jokes as well, via retweets and of their own writing. Some are using it to make valuable points, and of course there still is a tragic story involving real people here (professionals from many places in fact, as you’ll see later), but the predominant reaction is amused bewilderment. And honestly, I don’t feel like animators poking fun at such incomprehensible production woes is incompatible with their genuine worry about their industry’s state. Think of it as anime’s equivalent of a ridiculous tripping gif: first come the laughs, which doesn’t mean you can’t later worry that the person might have gotten hurt, and wonder if the banana skin was there due to a systemic lack of trash cans.
It’s worth establishing how broken DYNAMIC CHORD is. When fans think about production disasters, the image that inevitably comes to mind is that of loosely drawn character art, which sadly means that uncorrected low quality drawings and highly idiosyncratic expression often get lumped together. Although there are some maddening levels of inconsistency and straight up awful art later on, melting drawings aren’t really DYNAMIC CHORD’s fundamental problem. Renowned character designer Yasuomi Umetsu was tasked with adapting the original concepts, and at least at the beginning the show does an acceptable job at retaining his unmistakable sharp features. Staying on model was their first concern… maybe too much of a priority, in fact. Scratch that, definitely way too much of a priority. The multiple musical performances scattered through the first episode already present a cacophony of nonsense, most notably the fact that they’re nothing but constantly repeated loops of still shots, clumsily stringed around to pretend they’re animated. The result is unintentionally amusing, moreso considering that these sequences come by the handful in a show with dynamic in its title – it’s no surprise how by the second episode, it already had become a meme. If you want a more serious note though, the industry’s continuously decaying production circumstances have been forcing some anime creators to choose between movement and polish. This serves as a cautionary tale for going way too hard on the latter.
And that’s only the beginning, of course. If the helplessly still animation was this show’s problem, it would be no different from the Musashi Gundoh, Sparrow’s Hotel, and DaiShoguns of the world. But DYNAMIC CHORD’s special brand of wonkiness takes form with its first cliffhanger, announced by the most incomprehensible SFX you could imagine. Right about every episode has a sequence where the bizarre sound direction teams up with the abysmal animation to compose true nightmares. The art department isn’t spared either: if you can’t trust the office building where half the show is set to remain consistent, why would you expect a kitchen to be usable. Roads make no sense, but why would you head down in any direction when nothing leads anywhere to begin with. Just leave your car alone, because weird things happen to vehicles in this show. All vehicles. Honestly, just walk… though don’t do it alongside the cars, even though they encourage blind people to do so. And beware: space no longer functions – no, it really doesn’t – so that might be dangerous as well. But resist. Be the watermelon that swims upstream. If this madness were at least consistent it could in a way establish its own logic, but the constant switch between painfully forgettable seasonal anime and fever dreams where everything is at odds with itself means you never know what to expect. Community live-watching events for the series have become popular not just because it’s much more amusing to scream about it as a group experience, but also because it serves as emotional support.
Although the process is still more draining than fans realize, technology advancements have done a great deal to lessen the pain of making anime, as well as ensuring a bare minimum of quality. The assumption that anime’s production values continuously improve as we move forward is total nonsense (and so is the exact opposite train of thought), but it is true that it’s now harder to put together a complete disaster… in theory. When you factor in the awful climate, you end up with monsters like this that can challenge the worst productions of old – in their own way of course, very reflective of the industry’s current issues.
After seeing all of this, you’re likely wondering how it happened. You might think that, even though their long-running productions have their ups and downs, an entity as important as Studio Pierrot couldn’t possibly produce such a disaster. And you’d be wrong in your assumption – not in the usual sense that studio names are very much secondary to the actual staff, which is always a good point, but rather thinking that Pierrot is animating the show. Sure they’re the ones credited for its production (with assistance of their subsidiary Studio Pierrot+), but the truth is that every episode so far has been fully outsourced, a trend that shows no signs of stopping after 8 episodes. Chances are, the entire show will be. As you’ll know if you follow this site, fully outsourcing entails subcontracting the production of an entire episode to another studio, who will be in charge not only of providing the artists to get it made (whether they’re their own or further subcontracted), but will also have their own production assistants and episode directors overseeing the process. Almost all TV anime nowadays have fully outsourced episodes, and most of them end up with multiple throughout single cours. Situations where all episodes are subcontracted are entirely exceptional, however; we saw another very rare exception earlier this year with Onihei, a show made at Masao Maruyama’s new company M2 before he had even assembled proper staff for it. On top of this questionable achievement, it’s worth noting that 5/8 episodes of DYNAMIC CHORD are fully outsourced to multiple studios at the same time. Which is to say that they’re split in chunks, shipped to independent crews, and later assembled into a Frankenstein monstrosity. At this point you should be able to see why the result is what it is.
To make matters even worse, the companies they’re relying on are hardly the ideal candidates. HANJIN’s strong presence makes sense considering Pierrot’s strong ties with the Korean studio, and to be honest it’s far from the main problem. Anime’s outsourcing woes are still framed as if Chinese and Korean crews drag down the Japanese side, disregarding that they have perfectly legitimate, growing industries of their own, and that their sakuga stars have regularly been elevating Japanese projects and co-productions, especially since the webgen revolution. Given little time, no resources, and with a bit of landwater separating you from the core staff though, it’s hard to put together something respectable. The more curious side to this nonsense though is the presence of Japanese studios undertaking roles they’re not really meant to handle. Studio Wish stands out in particular, as they’ve produced multiple episodes and even the show’s… unique performances. They’re a rather trustworthy subcontracting company, which explains why on this very season they’ve contributed with painting and in-betweens to dozens upon dozens of shows. Fully outsourced episodes aren’t something they’re equipped to handle however, so they didn’t even have someone to oversee the process. This kind of issue plagues the production as a whole, and directly explains how it all is so inconsistent; the buildings that magically change? The background art team was replaced after 6 episodes, art director included. The bizarrely different aesthetic for the performances, changing not only the style of the drawings but even the colors? They’re outsourced to different staff. Character art that morphs entirely between scenes? The corrections struggle to keep up to begin with, but that’s bound to happen when each half of the episode is made at a different studio. When the industry’s talent is spread as thin as it is at the moment, even huge studios might end up trusting a newbie animation producer who has no way to assemble a functional staff to run a whole project.
Exploring the individual visions of anime creators can be fascinating, but at the end of the day production is a team effort. We constantly hear from industry people how much of a difference it makes to be able to get your goal across to a team that’s working alongside you, which is becoming increasingly rarer as crews grow big and more fragmented. And that’s why it’s important to keep in mind that DYNAMIC CHORD isn’t an isolated accident. Of course it’s a bigger disaster than its peers, but at its core it’s suffering from the exact same problems as the rest of the industry.