braves – [Twitter]
Movie — The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl
It is remarkable that Masaaki Yuasa has been able to produce so many works in the last four years or so. Ever since he found a bit more mainstream success with Kick-Heart and Adventure Time, Yuasa has been very prolific. This year, we got two movies that he has been simultaneously working on — Lu Over the Wall and The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. I got the chance to view both of these movies at Dallas’ AnimeFest, where Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi were guests of honor. At a panel held the day after the screening for Lu, Eunyoung asked the crowd what they thought about the film and the crowd gave an overwhelming positive response. Fans also gushed about the film when directly asked about what they thought about it. It was satisfying to see Yuasa get a strong response directly from his audience.
While I liked Lu quite a bit, I truly felt that The Night is Short was Yuasa’s best work since Mind Game. A spin-off of sorts to The Tatami Galaxy, The Night Is Short excels at showing off Yuasa’s comedic timing and visual creativity. Heavy hitters such as Norio Matsumoto (who animated the final musical sequence, among other scenes) and Shinya Ohira (who presumably storyboarded and had his hand in the climax) were the highlight of the film, but the movie is bouncing with ideas that truly make it a treat to watch.
I did not get to watch a lot of TV shows this year, but I was impressed with the OP/ED for Inuyashiki. Yuzuru Tachikawa is already a young star in the industry – it still boggles my mind how he ended up directing the next Detective Conan movie – and this OP shows exactly why. From the captivating imagery of a cityspace embedded into the protagonists’ new robotic bodies to surreal flame FX animation that is not seen anywhere else in the show, Tachikawa shows off why he is a name to watch out for in the years to come.
The starry-like ED is directed and animated by Shinpei Kamada with visual effects by Yusuke Tannawa. The shading work for this ED is what makes it stand out from your typical slow-moving ED. I will give also give a shoutout to the Attack on Titan ED for just being so weird and off-kilter in every aspect and to Hiroko Utsumi’s My Hero Academia Season 2 ED 2 for conveying a neat fantasy short story.
Character Animation — Your Name
No doubt one of the most important anime movies already, Your Name showcased what Makoto Shinkai can do when his excruciating attention to detail is paired with top-of-the-line animators — from ex-Ghibli animator Masashi Ando to Norio Matsumoto and Hiroyuki Okiura, among many others. The nuances to how the main characters act when they are in each other’s body convey so much about their personality. These touches, among others laid out in the film, give a sense of depth to the storytelling that is sorely missing from not only Shinkai’s previous films, but most animated work in general; I highly recommend this post written by Kevin concerning the production if you have not read it already! People may be clamoring to see what Shinkai has lined up next, but I’ll always appreciate what this film gave us.
Show — Recovery of an MMO Junkie
While admittedly not one the most technically accomplished productions, this show came in at the end of the year and stole my heart. Sometimes all it takes for a show to grab me is a likeable dork as the lead and some fun relatable shenanigans. It helps that the show has animation highlights sprinkled throughout, with plenty of opportunities for some fun and harrowing bits of character animation. Moriko is simply a great lead character and I just wanted her to be ok.
Episode — Symphogear AXZ #1
The premier episode of Symphogear‘s 4th season was one that was not only fun to watch, but was an incredible showcase of the animators that have grown with the franchise over the last few years. After buying both key animation artbooks for Symphogear GX a lot of the names that showed up on the KA list ended up being familiar to me. Most of import to me were Toshiharu Sugie and Yukiyoshi Shikiji (who were both promoted to co-action directors alongside series veteran Fumiaki Kouta). According to Kouta each animator did around 40 or so individual cuts for the episode, and unsurprisingly my favourite was Toshiharu Sugie’s. I guess I’m predictable that way, but the rythm of his animation just really does it for me, and with him doing his most consistently solid work on the show thus far I was quite happy. This was also the first instance of his evolving effects work that seems to be inspired by Shikiji and Kouta. Interestingly you can see this evolve over the episodes with it looking markedly improved by episode 10. In Shikiji’s case, his work was the most technically impressive out of all the animators with his cuts incorporating CG elements and a lot of layered smoke effects and impressive explosions. Shikiji is an interesting case where his work is so layered and complex at times that you kinda get overwhelmed and lose focus of the fact you’re watching a giant sword cut an airship in half. In any case I thought him, Kouta, and Sugie overall made a good team with this episode alone featuring some of the best action beats in the franchise. Other animators of note were folks like hanyw (who did some good work that helped me get a better sense of their style), Satoshi Hata (who rather than animating parts of a performance scene did some nice action), and Kazuto Arai who came in at the end with an explosion cut.
Movie — Your Name
Despite this year’s Fairy Tail Dragon Cry being the only anime movie I saw in theatres, I’d say my favourite movie of the year was Your Name. Most probably saw it last year but I finally managed to catch it it this year. It is definitely Shinkai’s best film to date and with the talent assembled here it’s also the best animated of all his works. Masayoshi Tanaka’s designs are simple but incredibly expressive. As an architecture graduate I really appreciated the lengths that they went to to make the buildings look as spectacular as they did, the art direction and the background paintings were simply stunning. It’s gonna be interesting to see if Shinkai will be able to top himself with his next work though putting that pressure on him would be a tad unfair. I’ll keep my expectations manageable since this is the first of his movies I’ve liked enough to watch multiple times.
My favourite opening of the year was ACCA‘s. The song alongside the stylish visuals came a long way as to making me excited to see what happened each episode. The opening is stuffed with great character art and small bits of great acting in a perfect enough balance as to make it a very fun watch every time. It was one of the ones I didn’t skip so for me that was more than I could have asked for.
Seeing independent animators contributing to commercial TV anime is always exciting, but Masanobu Hiraoka being the talent that he is, I wasn’t quite prepared for the calibre of animation we’d be getting on Little Witch Academia. His work on the first ED was already good but this ED was on a whole different level. The morphing effects and transitions are some of the best I’ve ever seen and I’m glad we were lucky enough to see Masanobu Hiraoka contribute to a franchise already swimming with animation talent.
Composite — Your Name
Composite isn’t something I actively think about a lot of the time. The only times I tend to notice is if it’s so bad that it actively gets in the way of my enjoyment of the animation (*cough*Unlimited Blade Works*cough*), or when it impresses me to the point that it leaves me with my jaw on the floor. Your Name was definitely the best looking thing I saw all year, although from the snippets I’ve seen of A Silent Voice I’m sure that would have been my 2nd choice had I seen the movie this year. Kyoto Animation’s photography department already did amazing things on TV productions like Sound Euphonium so I shudder to think what they accomplished on a movie production.
Character Animation — Fate/Apocrypha #9
My favourite bit of character animation this year would most definitely have to be Fran’s breakdown in Fate/Apocrypha #9. Her anguished expressions and her body language are so well conveyed you can see her rage build at one point as she raises her arms and as she lets it all out on the mannequin. You can almost hear her screams just by looking at the animation on its own and that was definitely appreciated. This level of anguish isn’t something you see executed this well very often in anime so I’m glad we get little scenes like this on top of all the action in this show.
Animation Designs — Norifumi Kugai (ACCA 13)
Norifumi Kugai’s first foray into the world of character design was the only reason I was excited about ACCA 13 and I was not disappointed. When compared to Natsume Ono’s original art they are markedly different, but not so much as to not be recognisable as the same characters. Kugai’s designs get across the otherworldly beauty of Ono’s originals but adds his own flair to them that makes them look good in motion most of the time. As the show is mostly a lot of dialogue scenes, his approach definitely was the right one with the only hiccups in my opinion being on outsourced episodes where the quality of the art takes a bit of a hit, showing that in the wrongs hands these designs can look a lot more like standard anime than Natsume Ono. On episodes with great staff though, these designs look downright gorgeous with people like Izumi Murakami, Tomohiro Shinoda and Hidehiko Sawada animating them with the delicacy they require and giving us some great pieces of character animation in the process. While most characters wear the same uniforms, their facial features and heights are distinct enough that you generally won’t get any of them confused (which is such a blessing with a cast this large).
Animator Discovery — Takumi Sunakohara [砂小原巧]
While I was vaguely aware of Sunakohara last year, it wasn’t until this year that he truly impressed me. As one of the many webgen artists that worked on Fate/Aprocrypha #22, I’d say his effects work was some of my favourite out of the entire bunch, besides my eternal favourite Kazuto Arai. With each new wave of artists we see different interpretations of the motifs that webgen artists have been incrementally improving on in terms of effects styles, and with his lightning effects work in his contribution, he really captured something of a more chaotic behaviour in the lightning itself. We’ve definitely seen attempts to branch out from the regular Kutsuna Lightning in the past but this was the most interesting new interpretation I’ve seen in a while. Rather impressively, he also produced some stunning background animation that managed to add a depth to his scenes that Nakaya Onsen also achieved, albeit with less static camera movement. I’m incredibly excited to see what wonders Sunakohara will gift us with next year.
Show — Made in Abyss
I almost didn’t catch this show in time to write this article, but good god, am I glad I did. While Sakugaheads will enjoy the odd appearance from Kou Yoshinari, Made in Abyss is a shining example that a series can get away with fairly limited animation when everything else around it is just perfect. Osamu Masuyama’s art direction is far and away the star of the show. He has brought to life Akihito Tsukushi’s world in a way no other could. It’s expansive, cohesive, and most importantly, it’s filled with a sense of wonder that carries the show from start to finish. As deeply disturbing as the world is, I have never wanted to explore it more. Tied together by Kevin Penkin’s magnificent score, and remarkable direction from Masayuki Kojima, this is far and away the best show of the year, and you owe it yourself to watch it (preferably in one sitting as I did – get lost in the world!).
Episode — Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul #01
While Virgin Soul wasn’t capable of maintaining these absurd production values throughout the entirety of its run, its first episode is a monumental effort of which you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a movie. Whether it be Norio Matsumoto’s terrific running sequence with its seamless 3D background work, or Shinsaku Kozuma’s near-90 second long dragon sequence with all of its stylized charm, this episode is a real animation powerhouse. It has action, it has character acting, it has wonderful music, and outstanding direction – I struggle to think of a more impressive episodes of a series this year… though admittedly I have yet to see Fate/Apocrypha #22. I have little else to say other than the feact that Nina is the greatest and you should totally watch this entirely for her incredible facial expressions.
Movie — A Silent Voice
Okay, okay… I’m cheating a little, here. A Silent Voice is a 2016 film, but since I didn’t see any 2017 films yet, and the movie made its way to the west this year, I’m abusing this technicality to give it this award – and let’s be honest, it totally deserves a mention two years in a row. “Character Acting: The Movie” is an adequate retitle. Never has a film felt so alive, and that’s so critical considering the deeply character-driven narrative. Futoshi Nishiya’s character designs are beautiful, Naoko Yamada’s direction is flawless, and of course, the stars of Kyoto Animation bring it to life with unwavering fortitude. I’m so sorry Your Name, but if I could steal all your awards and throw them at this film, I 100% would without hesitation.
Now we can all look forward to its stealthy sequel in the form of Hibike Euphonium’s new film, Liz and the Blue Bird.
OP/ED — My Hero Academia OP3
To be perfectly honest, I’m not an OP/ED guy. I watch them once or twice, and then they become “scroll through Twitter until the episode starts” opportunities. One caught my attention for its entire run, however, and that was My Hero Academia’s third OP. Putting aside amazarashi’s terrific track, this OP is packed with animators I’m used to talking about in relation to my primary focus: Dragon Ball. Ken Otsuka and Yuki Hayashi, in particular are very much the stars of this opening next to Takashi Mitani, who’s recently blown my socks off in Kekkai Sensen & Beyond. It’s irredeemably optimistic, and that’s perfect for this good ol’ fun-filled battle shonen.
Composite — Dragon Ball Super
To put it delicately, Dragon Ball Super didn’t have best of starts back in 2015; frankly, it was a colossal, industry-wide embarrassment. In spite of the fact the staff are still struggling behind the scenes, the past year of Super has been nothing short of impressive. With Tatsuya Nagamine taking over the role of series director, the overall polish of the series has increased tenfold, with near enough every episode over the past 45 having at least one instance of genuinely impressive action. But aside from this significantly better planning and direction, Nagamine brought about one other change that drastically altered the series visuals: a new aesthetic. Utilising Toei’s new line-processing technology that first debuted on Tiger Mask W, Super has shed its sterile one-weight line work in favour of extruding the artists’ original varied strokes. Accompanied by subtle shadows and a layer of grain, the series is far more in tune with its cel-era predecessors. With a distinct lack of creative photography work in the past, this arc also kickstarted a greater focus on atmosphere, with several episodes featuring the use of depth of field and intense lighting effects – aspects typically never found in Toei’s long running anime. The series still has a long way to go, and although these are hardly ground-breaking techniques, their presence is part of an overhaul to the series that feels significant enough to deserve this title.
Character Animation — Eromanga-sensei
Look, I’m not proud of this choice – Eromanga is a dreadful show and I’m probably on some sort of list for even talking about it – but it’s impossible to ignore the sheer number of scenes where subtle movements brings characters to life, or perfect exaggeration absolutely nails its intended comedic effect. Sagiri is far and away the best character in the worst show, and it’s down to how terrific her characterisation is through the animation alone. I recommend you check it out, but… consider locking all your doors and shutting the blinds first.
Animation Designs — Miku Kadowaki (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid)
It almost feels like cheating choosing a KyoAni show. Have they ever truly had any designs that weren’t amazing post-Clannad? I certainly can’t think of any. Miku Kadowaki has effortlessly translated Coolkyoushinja’s slightly dated looking manga designs into perfectly modern interpretations that are, most importantly, very animation friendly. This is one expressive show that isn’t afraid to break its model sheets for the sake of expression and humour. Its designs allow it to do so in ways that wouldn’t raise eyebrows with even the harshest of on-model fanatics.
Animator Discovery — Tu Yong-ce [涂泳策]
Chengxi Huang was a great discovery last year from China, and this time around, we have another wonderful Chinese animator: Yong-ce Tu. Tu first caught my eye on Dragon Ball Super, where he primarily stood out as a 2nd key animator, raising the overall quality of episodes to pretty high standards in areas that would have otherwise severely suffered. Over the past year, he’s been popping up time and time again as a key animator, and it seems people are starting to take notice. During Golden Week, Dragon Ball Super Episode 90 was in deep trouble, with the holiday resulting in only three people working on the episode at one point. Tu was asked to take on 100 cuts – mostly action based – in the span of 11 days to help save it, and the results are far and away the highlight of the episode. Since then, he’s started to produce longer and more complex cuts for Super, but the schedule has yet to allow him to shine in the same way his work on Pokemon: Sun & Moon recently has. Episode 53 saw him strutting his stuff with multiple characters bounding around the screen.
He’s young and fairly new to the industry, but he appears to be remarkably fast, and having spoken at length about taking cues from the likes of Naoki Tate and Naotoshi Shida, it’s clear he’s looking to grow into a real household name.
Show — Land of the Lustrous
This may just be the category I struggled with most this year. Initially I intended to go with Fate/Apocrypha in spite of its glaring production issues due to its staff throwing away logic and kicking reason to the curb, continually delivering excellent work against all odds, but my mind swayed at the last moment. Land of the Lustrous dispels the false belief that CG anime is inherently evil, proving to the world at large what Samurai Pictures did to a handful with their work on Aikatsu!‘s performances as the show went on. There’s issues in terms of character expression that need ironed out, but the decision to work with the industry’s most gifted 2D artists to help improve the end result is as an important a step as the end result itself.
Episode — Fate/Apocrypha #22
I’ve said everything that needs to be said regarding this episode already. No doubt others will be offering their own takes here as well, so let’s keep this one short.
Movie — Yama no Susume Omoide Present
Heaven’s Feel would take this spot with ease had I been able to see it, but alas, that wasn’t the case. In fact, I didn’t see any of this year’s movies at all, but fortunately we can count YamaSusu as one thanks to it being shown in theatres before its disc release. The package as a whole is as wonderful as one could come to expect from the series, but I’d be lying if I said that Matsuo “fugo” Yuusuke’s solo key-animated first half didn’t stand out most, especially after witnessing him somehow improve the designs I thought he had perfected for its second season. I was already excited for the third season coming next year, but this only helps to inspire confidence in what’s to come.
Topping the OP for KonoSuba‘s first season was a tall order, yet one they accomplished so well it almost seemed effortless. Fun, lively animation all throughout that makes full use of Kikuta’s designs and shows the cast for the damn nerds they are, plus a Megumin explosion for good effect. If the goal of an OP is to encapsulate what a show’s all about, then few pull it off better than this.
Dancing seems to have been a theme when it came to EDs this year. I’m particularly attached to Eromanga-sensei‘s thanks to Shuu Sugita’s bouncy work and its progression in tune with the beat of the song (and also going wild to it during Anisama), but it’s PriPri Chii-chan that came out of left field to catch my attention by nature of just how adorable both its 2nd and 3rd EDs are. I’d have loved to see the show continue forever just so it could provide more, so it’s a shame that it’s been killed by
bad shonen The Seven Deadly Sins taking its timeslot.
Also, a quick shout out to Masashi Ishihama’s Saekano s2 OP as it’s my favourite sequence of his in a long time.
Composite — Land of the Lustrous
Character Animation — Saekano S2 #10
There’s honestly far too much to pick from for this category thanks to quiet masterpieces like the Yama no Susume OVA, miraculous projects like Just Because! and even Eromanga-sensei that seemed doomed to fail based on their production circumstances, plus a general wealth of character focused moments even in the big action shows of each season. Personal bias is always going to play a role in these entries though, which is what leads me to pick out Saekano S2 #10 from the pond. My gripes with Saekano as an adaptation in contrast to my enjoyment of the source material has never been secret, and S2 only seemed to pronounce this further until the final stretch turned everything around, with this episode serving as the figurative home run. The youngsters rounded up by Shouta Umehara to take part wasted no time in showing off their brand of delicate character expression, taking an already powerful climax and ensuring it outshined its source material in every manner possible. These are the same people who then went on to take the industry by storm through their work on Apocrypha #22, just to make sure everyone knows this episode was no fluke.
Animation Designs — Itsuki Imazaki (Ai Mai Mi ~Surgical Friends~)
If Koichi Kikuta’s KonoSuba designs exist to allow each animator to have as much fun with them as possible, then Itsuki Imazaki’s Ai Mai Mi designs exist for him to bend them to each and every insane joke found within this awful, incredible series. It’s just another day at the office when characters undergo drastic transformations multiple times in the span of mere minutes, feeling so natural that sometimes you’re not quite sure if the big garbage blob was the original design all along. Bless Imazaki, forever and ever.
Animator Discovery — Toru Iwasawa [岩澤亨]
Safe to say that every participant was spoiled for choice here thanks to 2017 being the unquestionable year of the industry’s youngsters, but none caught my eye more than Toru Iwasawa himself thanks to his output within Fate/Apocrypha. His portryal of Mordred’s outrageous speed in its second episode turned me into a fan almost immediately, and only continued to impress thanks to the sense of weight and interesting timing within his cuts. A monster in the making, especially if he takes tips from the action masters he’s been surrounded by so far.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this outing, it’s that if you tell people there’s no character limit, they’ll that to heart. Everyone’s passionate though, and that’s good! Perhaps most surprising about this year is how wide the vote is in general: candidates that were expected to sweep like Apocrypha #22 did modestly well at best, with plenty of surprises to be seen all around. 2017 wasn’t nearly as strong as last year was, but it’s proof that the industry somehow keeps producing very diverse, notable works even in spite of the conditions that surround it. Next year looks to start off strong as well, so look forward to our season preview covering why in a couple of days!