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Show – Boruto – Naruto Next Generations
In a year where you can definitely tell that a series lives or dies by its production schedule, the series that impressed me the most is the one that probably had the tightest schedule of the bunch when we discount its older brother. You guessed it, I’m talking about Naruto once again, but this time it’s about Boruto in particular. To be perfectly honest I didn’t think I would be here talking about Boruto, especially in its first year where it’s been suffering the production woes that Pierrot has become known for within these past few years. But fate would have it that the core staff is comprised of quite a talented bunch that challenge themselves with every new cut, meaning that the grand in-house episodes still manage to be spectacular.
Honorable mentions: <GARO> -VANISHING LINE-
Episode — Boruto – Naruto Next Generations #01 & #39
With my fellow brethren most likely giving their vote to a majority of sakuga episodes like Fate/Apocrypha #22 and Little Witch Academia #25, it would be redundant to regurgitate what’s already been said about them. So once again I stand before you today with Naruto episodes… Whoops, I mean Boruto episodes. #01 and #39, to be specific. They didn’t feature intense action in contrast the usual animation spectacles in the franchise, but instead focused on delivering a good healthy dose of strong character animation from beginning to end, supported by both excellent direction and storyboards. The use of extreme perspectives in #39 stood out to me, too.
Honorable mentions: March Comes in like a Lion #26
Movie — Blade Runner Black Out 2022
Simply the best piece of animation of 2017.
OP/ED — Various
Thinking about the openings of this year, I have to say that the majority of them were either forgettable, lackluster, or just generic. The ones that stood out among all this were the ones that played to their director’s strengths, like Sayo Yamamoto’s sexy but seductive Kakegurui OP or Ryu Nakayama’s Gamers OP that highlights each character’s personality bookend with some great animation from him and his pals. On the ED side of things, dancing endings were the ones I was most fond of, like Izumi Murakami’s elegant ACCA ED and Shuu Sugita’s cute bouncy and expressive Eromanga-sensei ED.
Honorable mentions: Shingeki no Kyojin OP/ED
Character Animation — Various
It would feel too easy to point at Norio Matsumoto’s cuts from The Night is Short, Walk on Girl as the best character animation that I’ve seen all year, since his skill on a theatrical project is nearly impossible to match. Instead, I’ll bring up Hirofumi Okita’s Kekkai Sensen & Beyond cuts and Shinya Ohira’s cuts from Blade Runner Black Out 2022, the latter of which was particularly impressive with expressing personality through motion and conveying the carnage of war through, not to mention how appealing they are to the eye.
Honorable mentions: March Comes in like a Lion #26
Animation Designs — Koichi Kikuta (KonoSuba S2)
I know picking KonoSuba this year is somewhat cheating considering they’re not technically new, but Koichi Kikuta’s designs are still the best fit for animation I’ve seen since 2016.
Honorable mentions: Girls’ Last Tour
Animator Discovery — Eri Taguchi & Nakaya Onsen [田口愛梨 & 温泉中也]
In a year that was bursting with young talent, there were two people that truly showed how versatile they are. First up is Taguchi, who has been on my radar even since she made her debut as an animator last year in Naruto Shippuden #477. Under the rigid guidance of Hiroyuki Yamashita, Taguchi is slowly but surely becoming the companion piece to Huang and Fujisawa. As for Nakaya Onsen, he has already been written about intensively on here, so I advise you to check Kevin’s post about him.
Honorable mentions: Moaang
paeses – [Twitter]
Show — Blade Runner: Black Out 2022
Although technically not a series, Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 is the biggest surprise of the year that truly came from nowhere. Directed by the legend Shinichirou Watanabe, with designs and animation direction by my favorite Shuukou Murase, both brought a strong team from the impressive animators list right down to the background artists . They managed to make the perfect cyberpunk dystopian world, which is what I wish for of sci-fi cyberpunk shows, and something we might never get again.
Episode — Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul #01
This year had many great episodes showcasing outstanding animation; Fate/Apocrypha #22, My Hero Academia #13, Welcome to the Ballroom‘s many highlights, to name a few. Since other people will talk about those, instead I’ll talk about an episode that gave me theatrical vibes – Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul #01. The show kept the tradition of a strong and well-directed first episode like the 1st season, thanks to the help of Akitoshi Yokoyama as storyboarder and Shinsaku Kozuma’s return to animation. Needless to say, it was glorious. The staff knows how to make this show feel grand in its world and story. It was definitely one of my highlights this season.
Movie — Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
I wasn’t able to watch many movies this year, regretfully. In fact, I only watched one: Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. That said, it was a good experience production-wise nonetheless; think regular SAO but cranked up to eleven.
Composite — Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale also wins in this department as far as I’m concerned. Waki Kentarou began to perfect his vision in this movie. He managed to make both the real and virtual worlds exciting to look at with an appealing brownish color palette, but also used vibrant colors to highlight effects as well many digital sparks to light the scenes. I loved the subtle use of textures that are flashy yet still relatively easy on the eyes. Moreover, the best part for me is the texture of the explosions. I do not mind the use of filters in animation as long as it enhances the experience and that is why I enjoy ambitious composition that’s well thought out. I hope that we see more of him later.
Character Animation — Hironori Tanaka
I’m glad we got this opportunity to highlight character animation that usually goes ignored. Therefore, it’s time for me to show bias Hironori Tanaka’s acting expertise, as aspect of his work that fans love him for. There are many things that make him excel at these kind of scenes, most notable his flexibility when it comes to portraying each character’s emotions. Tanaka always takes the character designs and molds them to his own image, allowing him to express their feelings in an eloquent way. In addition, I believe one of his strong points is his use of exaggerated movement, making it seem like his characters are actually feeling something. He started this year strong with scene of Magane playing with the protagonist’s mind, then we got Jabami Yumeko’s insane mind-games with her friend. After that we have this cute interaction between Satou Sakie and Takahashi Tetsuo, which features both the bouncy and subtle sides to his work. Plenty of other animators proved their skill this year, but for now, I’ll gladly stick to my favorite.
Animation Designs — Koichi Kikuta (KonoSuba S2)
Konosuba S2 is definitely my pick here. Got to love how loose Kikuta designs are and how fun they seem to animate! They allowed many animators to express their own take on them, which varied from fairly beautiful on-model drawings to cartoony exaggerations. Not everything has to be consistent after all!
Animator Discovery — Hiromitsu Seki [関弘光]
Hiromitsu Seki is a mysterious animator whom we still do not have much info about. He started working in the industry in 2012 as key animator, but it was his work Mob Psycho 100 #05 and Twin Star Exorcists OP2 that started turning heads. You can tell what makes him special just by seeing those scenes; he can animate 2D animation in 3D space perfectly, to the point that I still wonder if he’s CG tracing those debris and buildings. He’s just that good! It is amazing how he can keep the perspective and dimensions on his drawings. Not many animators can do this with ease, but that clearly doesn’t apply to Seki, as seen by how many of his recent works include some kind of background animation. I cannot wait to see his work with Yamashita’s upcoming project.
Show — Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan!
When it comes to choosing a TV series for its animation prowess, 2017 appears deceptively weak. It’s not as if this has been a weak year for anime, but all the candidates are either wildly inconsistent or show otherwise crippling flaws. Land of the Lustrous is a clear landmark and has some of the most emotionally charged sequences I’ve ever experienced, but as much as I adore the show and feel like it made up for it, there’s no denying that its acting is awkward at best. Shows like Made in Abyss, Maidragon, Welcome to the Ballroom, Guruguru, and Little Witch Academia are obvious stand-outs, but their animation is a bit too conservative – in quantity much more than in nature, as they’re all unique in their own way – for me to feel comfortable awarding them. If we look at the more action-focused candidates, My Hero Academia’s second season lost steam in a fierce way in the second half as the schedule caught up to it, and brilliant beginning aside, is still sadly stiff for a Yoshihiko Umakoshi-led animation endeavor. And while Fate/Apocrypha has earned the right to be listed amongst the most important projects to understand the evolution of webgen artists in anime, the production nightmares that have been plaguing A-1 projects held it back a great deal.
What was my choice then? If maintaining excellence was this year’s struggle, I choose to bypass that by picking a show with episodes that are just a few minutes long. Aku no Gundan is an amusing little series that is always pleasant to look at, and it happens to be an interesting project as well; Tatsunoko keeps spearheading industry innovation and put it together as an experiment for fully digital pipelines, where the key animators also inbetweened and painted their own cuts. The result was quite nice, particularly in the very hectic finale. This was the last project that director Takahiko Kyougoku led before the broadcast of everyone’s favorite sentient gems anime, so perhaps we should thank it a bit more for the latter’s masterful digital work. It feels as if I barely anyone watched it in the first place, so in this year without a clear winner otherwise, this is a good opportunity to raise awareness.
Episode — Fate/Apocrypha #22
This category was up for debate until fairly recently since, despite their wildly different nature, there were many episodes on a similar level of excellence; the most emotionally resonant action offerings such as Land of the Lustrous #8, thoroughly acted introductory episodes like those of Made in Abyss and Just Because!, the sheer variety of animation on display in the Maidragon episodes commanded by Yoshiji Kigami, Shinpei Sawa, and Yasuhiro Takemoto himself, Little Witch Academia’s more magical peaks (#1, #3, #25), the one-two punch of Toei’s past and present with the double finale of Tiger Mask W, Pokemon’s earned genuine fanservice extravaganza Sun & Moon #43, even the special episodes on A-1 shows produced by their new sakuga ringleader Shota Umehara. All of them impressive to the point they’d have been a fitting choice…but in the end, a truly significant episode snuck into 2017 to demand a nomination.
As I’ve said before, Fate/Apocrypha #22 isn’t just a fantastic action piece combining visceral sequences with grand FX spectacle, it’s also a sign of things to come. A congregation of the industry’s best where the newcomers have the leading voice, which had a tangible effect on the animation. This new wave of digital animators holds character expression as a major priority, in contrast to the relative weakness their predecessors had in that regard. Seeing their work intertwined with the undeniably impactful work of their older peers is one of the most interesting prospects of anime in the years to come. This might not be the greatest choice for people who value polish, consistency and well-planned readability in fights, but its content and what it represents give me no other choice. As far as I’m concerned, 2017’s TV animation peaked here.
Movie — Kizumonogatari III, The Night Is Short Walk on Girl, Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel I, Yama no Susume Omoide Present
Rather than choosing a single film, I believe that the right choice this year was to highlight multiple titles to exemplify the variety that is now present in the theatrical space. While I didn’t get a chance to watch Hiromasa Yonebatashi’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower – likely the biggest traditional offering – the year was packed with interesting projects. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones the stood out the most to me:
- Kizumonogatari Part 3: The first entry in the trilogy left an impression by how aptly Tatsuya Oishi made a world out of Araragi’s insecure teenage mind, while the second one managed to do so through sheer volume of outstanding animation. The grand finale is the most unique of the three, peaking with a tragic, visceral, yet somehow hilarious final confrontation. A relay of incredible animation that manages to be nothing like what precedes it in the film, best exemplified by Kou Yoshinari’s impossible scene. This doesn’t belong on this planet, so we should count ourselves lucky that it happened to land here.
- The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl: Lu Over the Wall is my favorite out of the recent Masaaki Yuasa offerings, and as far as I’m concerned the one that comes closest to making Science Saru’s Flash production come closer to being an asset rather than a big detriment. And yet when it comes to the animation, it’s his other 2017 movie that I found the most memorable. It’s less sanitized than Lu, more diverse and features the greatest peaks – Norio Matsumoto’s musical and the final Shinya Ohira setpiece, to be precise.
- Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel I: I’ll keep it brief since I’ve already talked about the film, but Heaven’s Feel is the uncompromised culmination of modern ufotable’s work. That alone should tell you whether or not this is up your alley, and as long as you’re not outright opposed to it, chances are that you’ll be thrilled during its ridiculously complex action setpieces.
- Yama no Susume Omoide Present: This theatrical OVA is split into two mini-episodes, both of which notable on their own right. Kazuaki Shimada and Satoshi Furuhashi’s friendly bickering is as cute as it comes, but it’s the first part entirely key animated by Yuusuke Matsuo that stands out the most. The renowned fugo started by essentially redesigning his characters for the third time, and then fully handled Kokona’s solo adventure. She’s a character shrouded in curious mystery for such an otherwise down-to-earth series, and he’s capable to convey that otherworldliness through the layouts alone. Good enough to tell people to watch it as a standalone short film, were it not for the fact that Yama no Susume as a whole is already well worth recommending.
OP/ED — Girls’ Last Tour Ending
You might have anticipated me to vote for Masashi Ishihama’s Saekano opening, since it encompasses so much of a style I’ve shown to love. I know I expected myself to! But in the end, the sweetest surprise of the year was Girls’ Last Tour original author singlehandedly creating the ending sequence for its anime adaptation: from storyboards to composite, all by the original mangaka! The skills required to illustrate comics and animate don’t necessarily overlap, but Tsukumizu, who already incorporated concepts like elasticity into the manga, is quite the exception in this regard. And of course, no one better than the author to capture the charming camaraderie of the two girls adventuring in a post-apocalyptic world!
Composite — Land of the Lustrous, Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel I, Welcome to the Ballroom, Kizumonogatari Part 3
I advocated the inclusion of this category because the more time passes, the more important it is to the way animation is presented. Photography teams are becoming more ambitious, which makes anime find beauty that wasn’t possible before… and also new disasters. Excellent sequences that end up feeling lacking because of poor composite work has become a common issue, so we should start giving more credit to the projects that do manage that, no matter what their approach is. This year I’ve been impressed by some titles with very different approaches.
- Land of the Lustrous made the shiny appearance of gems, the lighting and their reflections, into one of its most iconic assets. Not only that, but it also managed to superimpose all the 3D work over very traditional painted backgrounds and get away with it.
- Heaven’s Feel represents Yuichi Terao’s Hollywood-esque style in its most refined form. I tend to be put off by his overwhelming presence and the photorealistic digital effects, but Lancer’s bright red madness aside, this movie shows much more restraint and flourishes as consequence. If what you’re looking for is sheer technical advancement this is where you’ll find it, alongside more finesse than he had previously shown.
- Highlighting Welcome to the Ballroom feels important so that people don’t get the impression that good anime composite equals very visible postprocessing. As a team meant to bring out the best in the work of the animators, sometimes the best decision to make is to stay in the shadows, create the illusion of cohesiveness and only shine in special moments. Ballroom’s greatest success is not even making you think someone put together pieces crafted by different artists.
- Kizumonogatari stands in the opposite end, as a rare title that benefits from many of its elements being at odds with each other, again proving that there’s no one true correct way to approach this. Shout out to the widely underappreciated crew at Cyclone Graphics who gradually took over all digital work on this trilogy, leading to a much better result than SHAFT’s usual work.
Character Animation — March Comes in Like a Lion #26
Other projects as a whole best Sangatsu with no effort – Kyoto’s usual crew doing their thing on Maidragon, Keisuke Kobayashi & co.’ effort on Eromanga, the conceptual thoroughness of Just Because… But when it comes to a single moment of unexpected excellence, the fourth episode of Sangatsu’s return to TV blew me away like nothing else. A TV episode on a level that SHAFT no longer seemed capable of delivering, carried by studio stars like AbeGen and Genki Matsumoto, as well as plenty of interesting guests; Production I.G star in training Yamamoto, and Sunrise-bred Shingo Tamagawa in particular, contributed to an episode with endless sequences of both realistic and surreal expression.
Animation Designs — Mai Toda (Girls’ Last Tour)
The return of Koichi Kikuta’s KonoSuba designs and Yoh Yoshinari’s perfect Little Witch Academia’s concepts, now tweaked by Shuhei Handa, are well worth mentioning. And in an entirely different way, Takahiro Kishida’s controversial take on Welcome to the Ballroom’s designs, plus the nightmarish creatures crafted by Kou Yoshinari for Made in Abyss, easily have the most presence out of any designs this year. When it comes to it though, I have an easy choice: the good blobs.
Animator Discovery — soty
This category might come across as a curiosity, but I believe it’s one of the most important ones. This community used to be so stuck in the appreciation of a small group of masters that you’d see work being misattributed with the misguided thought that only those big names would be capable of work that good – hence why discovery is so important. Personally I tend to gravitate towards a certain crew, since over the last few years I’ve brought up artists like Kazuaki Shimada, ちな, and Nakaya Onsen – good choices, all things considered! This year I’ll keep up that tradition and highlight one of their pals: the brilliant soty, whom you might know as Masami Mori… or some of the other names he’s been credited as. That’s in fact the reason why I took so long to truly notice him, despite his outrageous talent: all while training at Toei, soty has spent the last couple years working alongside sakuga stars using different pseudonyms, often a variation of Mori. Now that I’m properly following him and have a grasp of his style, I understand why his peers speak of his as a one of a kind genius. Soon the ソティいいいいいい screams will spread even further.
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