It might seem odd to question whether anime should be well animated but with Evangelion coming out on Netflix it has reopened a lot of the discussion around its status as a great anime. While there are plenty of complaints and comments about the story and characters (there are also plenty of people praising the exact same elements) one of the regular points raised as a means of reducing Evangelion’s status is the animation itself, or rather, the lack of animation in a lot of scenes.
Certainly there were a lot of interesting choices in the direction of Evangelion and a lot of these can be identified as a means of saving money or time. Ultimately, while some of the fighting sequences might be very well animated by and large you would have to agree that the animation in Evangelion isn’t exactly the benchmark for good quality. Not with so many almost entirely still shots or panning sequences over still images as well as reused animations.
But for me that doesn’t actually take anything away from Evangelion as a classic work. For me it has always been the story and ideas with Evangelion that have appealed and I actually like a lot of those weird lingering elevator sequences that nicely contrast the characters and show their current relationship with barely any words or movements at all. While it isn’t a style I’d like all anime to take on, for the weird and wonderful work that is Evangelion it kind of fits.
Then again, when I think about myself as an anime fan, while I’ll notice particularly good animation or direction and I’ll comment on particularly poor efforts of the same, generally speaking the animation isn’t what I’m looking for in an anime. And that just sounds wrong, but for me the appeal of anime are the stories being told and the characters we’re introduced to. If it manages to look really pretty while doing it that can certainly elevate something that is fairly average to being more enjoyable but it won’t compensate if the story isn’t interesting in the first place.
I’m probably going to get some criticism for this but I didn’t manage to finish Violet Evergarden. In fact, I didn’t make it beyond the third episode. I didn’t get to the end of the third episode. Episode one did nothing for me but because so many rave reviews had come out I gave myself a break and then tried it again, this time with a friend. We watched the first episode, shrugged and pushed into the second. Mid-way through the third we just kind of turned to each other and said, ‘want to watch something else?’.
Now Violet Evergarden is a good anime. By a lot of people’s standards it is a great anime. Even though I didn’t like it very much I will absolutely confirm that the animation is truly fluid and beautiful and the direction is lovely. But none of that made me want to keep watching it when I felt no reason to care about the main character two and a half-episodes in.
Similarly I did watch and enjoyed both Kenja no Mago and Midnight Occult Civil Servants during the Spring anime season. Neither of these are particularly well animated. Actually you could argue that both are pretty rough looking with a lot of off-model character shots and way too many scenes with characters standing or sitting very still with practically no animation at all. Throw in the fact that Midnight Occult Civil Servants is also pretty dark and dull to look at and we are not talking about two anime that could be praised for their efforts in visuals, direction or animation.
Now in an ideal world we could have it all. We could have stories we enjoy, with characters we care about, while the visuals and animation blow us away with their polish and shine. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world and considering the speed at which anime episodes are made it seems unlikely we’ll ever really live in a world where every show aims for excellence.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t enjoy what we get in the meantime.
I know for some viewers an anime not having good animation is a deal breaker. I recently read a review where someone dropped a show after multiple issues with the shot composition and perspectives. And there’s no problem with someone doing that. Because we’re all watching anime to be entertained and if poor animation makes something painful for you to watch then you aren’t going to be very entertained.
Then again, I have a high tolerance for poor visuals given my background in B grade horror movies. So many terrible monster costumes and over the last decade or so we’ve moved to terrible green-screen or terrible CG. Ultimately how bad it looks mostly just adds to the laugh factor in these kinds of stories. So coming from that background, an anime where the characters seem like they are walking impossibly slowly, where their head swivels in a way that isn’t possible, or even an anime that just kind of pans over still images during large chunks of its fight sequences isn’t going to put me off.
Admittedly, it probably won’t be making a list of my very favourite anime any time soon but I’ll still probably watch it an enjoy it.
Over to you though: Do you need great animation in your anime?
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