Do You Need Great Animation In Your Anime?

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.

I don’t know what this was supposed to be but it is ugly. It was worse animated.

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REBUILD OF EVANGELION INTERFACE HEADSET ASUKA VER.

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.

Attack on Titan - Season 3 - Episode 2 - Levi

Over to you though: Do you need great animation in your anime?


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Karandi James



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31 thoughts on “Do You Need Great Animation In Your Anime?

  1. I guess it really depends on the story being told? Like it can be the most beautiful animation in the world but if the story sucks what’s the point? Similarly it can be the worse animation ever, but if it’s funny/interesting I’ll still keep watching. I don’t think I ever dropped a series based on animation but it is interesting to consider.

    One of my best friends majored in Animation in college, so she’s helped me develop a better sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in terms of quality. But also a scale of ‘this thing was produced when this method wasn’t available so this was actually the highest degree of animation during the time’ which is an important thing to consider when you get to more ‘classic’ or simply ‘older’ works.

  2. When I was a newbie, I didn’t know anything about animation quality or styles and just focused on my enjoyment of the narratives. Then I went through this phase as a freshman in college where I thought I had to be super versed in animation styles and the best of the best to make friends. Now, while I can appreciate excellent animation, it doesn’t always equate to an excellent anime. Some of the best anime I’ve seen and love to re-watch have such laughable animation (the 3d in Initial D is a SUPREME example hahaha *sobs*). So, nah, not by far. I much prefer good writing and well-developed characters or world-building (if fantasy type series/film) over animation quality.

    1. This I really understand. Though despite the sheer amount of anime I’ve consume I’m still not all that knowledgeable about animation techniques. I kind of get the basics and can tell when something is off, but that’s about it.

  3. I feel like a show doesn’t need great animation. As long as the artwork is good or the animation is decent then I’m fine. I think the only time it really hurts is when a show’s animation is downright bad. Of course art is fairly interpretive so to me “bad” animation is abstract. I don’t really care for Mob Psycho’s animation for example or that recent comedy anime about two girls who break the third wall. That animation will end up taking a bit of a toll on the show’s score, but otherwise it won’t really affect it. Typically what impacts the score the most for me is the other aspects of the show like the writing and plot. Great animation can increase a show’s score though. Part of why I liked One Punch Man so much was the animation and for Sword Art Online the colors really brought the scenery to life.

    1. I agree that One Punch Man really came alive with the animation which was probably why I never quite got as excited about season two because the animation just wasn’t quite at the same level. It isn’t as though the story was bad, but the animation was what elevated it and drew the audience into it. That and the music. Those two elements really helped make a simple concept shine.

  4. I think it really depends on the show. For example, Ping Pong has the sloppiest, almost avant garde artwork and animation yet is a brilliant show because of the writing, the characters and the sound design.

    Flowers of Evil is another controversial for its rotoscope animation but would be less effective as a “standard” animation because the mood and nature of the story dictates that edge rotoscoping gives it.

    Conversely, I’ve seen many low-brow harem/isekai series that are gorgeous to look at but that is all they have going for them.

    Then you have the likes of Shinkai and Miyazaki, for whom the visuals are equally as important as the story since they both have built a reputation for delivering on both aspects.

  5. Garden of Words has Godly animation and IMHO Godly plot and characters. (YMMV) That makes it one of the finest short anime movies ever made. Without the animation, it is still a good show. The animation adds so much to the plot, making it great.

    An anime doesn’t just tell its story with words and people doing things. Without good animation, you lose atmosphere. You lose nuance. You lose subtlety. You lose the fleeting look on a persons face, the slight shift in posture. Good animation isn’t about the big things. It is paying attention to the small stuff and getting it right.

    How do you transmit a sense of the individual visually if every girl has the same face? Hair is different, boobs are different sizes, the makeup is different but ultimately we are just changing the stats on a Barbie doll. Ritsuko in Kids on the Slope is fine animation. She’s not a Barbie doll, she actually looks like a real person you might have grown up with. Kaoru and Senatro aren’t just variations on the same guy clone.

    I could go on and on about how Chihaya in Chihayafuru actually has a nose. Not a symbol for a nose but a real nose. It makes her far more beautiful than the other females held up as bishoujo.

    I feel cut to the heart that someone dislikes Violet Evergarden. It was, IMHO, the best anime of the year and I blogged it that way. The plot and the characters were outstanding and the quality of the art pushed it into what I consider great. The first three eps laid the foundations for what happened thereafter.

  6. I can accept trashy animation if the story is otherwise very strong, but really good animation never fail for me. You and I have talked about Spice and Wolf…it’s got no story but it looks (and sounds) so pretty I can’t resist it.

  7. I don’t need great animation… is what I want to say. As it is, I can’t really tell what’s good animation and what’s not! I’m just not a visual person. If there’s some metric to it, it’s certainly beyond me.

  8. I feel that stunning animation can be important to visual mediums because that’s what we expect from it. Technology evolved to let animators blend CG with 2D, along with other effects and tricks. Stunning animation is great to grab your attention and a way to acknowledge artists who put a lot of love and effort into their work as well.

    I agree with you in that choosing to watch an anime for its beautiful animation is a choice. For me, it’s more fun to be open to everything, so at least I won’t miss out on hidden gems, both new and old.

    For one thing, I decided to watch a few episodes of The Rose of Versailles out of curiosity. Sure, it’s aged but the storytelling and protagonist kept me interested. I also watched Ao-chan Can’t Study Well from last season and I found it funny, even if it wasn’t anything amazing to look at. Bonus points to it because Tsudaken was also in it.

    I also dropped Violet Evergarden from its first episode but am willing to give it a second shot. Who knows, maybe I can find other things that will make me appreciate it more.

    1. Good animation can definitely grab your attention and whether animation is a must or not, most people appreciate good animation and visuals in their anime.

  9. Well…I can honestly say: No I don’t. Like you I care more about the story and characters than the animation. Sure it’s nice if that is cool as well, but if that will always be the least important thing to me when it comes to anime. I have seen plenty of shows that have very low animation quality, but had such great tales and characters in it that I loved it very much.
    As for Violet Evergarden, it’s a real shame you didn’t like that one. As you know it was my favorite show last year. I do have to admit that the Violet’s story is a slowburner. But what I loved about it is the way her character grew and how she turns out it at the end of the series. But hey: I always respect everyone’s opinion, so I’m not going to convince you to give it another go lol.
    But back to the topic at hand: good animation for anime is a plus, no denying that, but an amazing story and characters are way more important! Great post! 😊

    1. Glad you liked the post and I remembered you really enjoyed Violet Evergarden. I kind of feel it is a shame I just couldn’t get into it too because it does look like it would be very good and certainly it got a lot of people talking last year.

      1. That is no problem 😊I have often said that one of the things that I always like about movies, tv series, anime and books is that everyone has different tastes. It’s what makes it so much fun to talk about stuff. As for Violet, well if there is one episode that shows you the beauty of this show and maybe win you over: it’s episode 10. It’s a standalone episode that you can watch without having seen any of the other episodes. It literally brought me to tears (yes I admit that even though I am a man lol 😂). So whow knows, maybe if you watch that one, Violet might just charm you over 😉😊

  10. In my opinion, as time goes on and technology improves, there’s less and less room for awful visuals. Doesn’t need to reach greatness, but it should at least be pretty good without having audiences stare at off-model shots as the center of attention.

    1. Technology changes and changes in style definitely are a good point because we honestly wouldn’t accept some of the visuals from a few decades ago in a new anime today.

  11. While great animation can make something bearable, I come to anime for the characters and ideas, without those I’m likely to check out fast. Plus I’m a classic Doctor Who fan so I’m more than used to dodgy visuals and effects.

  12. I have a picture of a unicorn on my wall, not because it’s such a great print but because it speaks to me on a level that makes me feel fuzzy and happy when I look at it.
    I could hang the Mona Lisa in my room and it might look nicer but it’s not the same.
    Anime to me is the same, though I can enjoy something stylistic on a basic level, it needs to have a soul to truly like it. For example as a D&D player Konosuba really resonated with me, I loved that show to bits, even if the second season had some serious animatiion problems, I did not notice. When I watch Dragonball Z or Super, I know there will be repeat animations but I let myself be emerged in some dumb nostalgic fun.

    So I do not think anime needs great animation, It’s the seasoning on a dish, some aren’t strong enough to do without it , but if your ingredients are good enough, it only enhances the whole. Without it something CAN be perfectly enjoyable

  13. Great animation could help, but that’s not the be all end all for what I like. I’m a huge fan of Yugo the Negotiator and the animation was average at best. However, the story, characters, and unique setting more than make up for it. There’s also The Garden of Words. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, yet I found the plot to be extremely problematic (even more so if you reverse the genders of the main characters).

      1. That’s fine. I didn’t think it was the best Shinkai work, but I already made a review of it. I’m surprised I didn’t get backlash for giving it less than a favorable score. Then again, I’m surprised that I didn’t get backlash for this or my other reviews or thoughts.

  14. While beautiful animation is a joy to watch, story trumps visuals for me. For example, let’s look at two current shows: Fire Force and If It’s for My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord. Fire Force has beautiful animation, but for me the story is taking a nosedive as it succumbs to mindless trope and cliche. It’s almost as if they’ve wasted all the world-building of episode 1. I’ll continue watching for at least a few more episodes (hoping for better), but wondrous artwork alone can only carry a series so far (witness the disaster of Orange). On the other hand, Daughter/Demon Lord suffers from lackluster animation–in today’s episode (3), we got our first fight scene, and it was downright bad. Embarrassingly so. But I love the story, the characters, and the message of familial love enough to watch through its rough spots. For me, the greatest beauty should always be within the story itself.

    1. I’m with you for the most part. I’m watching for the story so unless I find the visuals distractingly awful I keep watching. Then again, people keep telling me Mob Psycho has great animation and yet I find the entire show so ugly I can’t finish even season one despite being interested in the main character and where the story might go.

      1. I can’t think of a single instance where I gave up on a series solely because of the visuals, but my son can’t watch Home Movies–he says the art style literally causes him to have headaches. Something to do with the way the colors seem to bleed into each other and the lack of discernible outline. . .

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