Style In My Anime
In a medium that is based specifically on visuals, you would think we would get a wide variety of styles and aesthetics more often. Anime has always seemed to follow certain guidelines and rules formulated or borrowed mostly from successful shows of generations past. Thankfully, this is not always the case. Every once in a while we get the ambitious production team or creator willing to break the mold and add his or their own original spin to this already seemingly over saturated medium we love so much.
Lets be honest while not all anime may not literally looks exactly the same, most of it does have a generic feel to it, whether it be character designs, visual effects or tropes. Take for example the many incarnations of Loli Rie Kugumiya.
Now ‘Style’ is very subjective and because of this I decided to list my criteria of anime that has style and what makes it work.
– It has to work to benefit the material. I’ve come across many situations where the choice in character design has completely put me off of a show. I just can’t take goofy looking characters seriously so please don’t make your show a thrilling political drama if it has the goofiest character designs ever.
-It has to be unique and creative. As generic looking as most anime are, they are really not all the same when you come down to tiniest of nit-picky details. They may have a different choice in color pallet or some may have their characters look more chibi than realistic etc. But this isn’t what im looking for, I’m listing anime that go out of their way to stand out and end up becoming Trendsetters because of how well their art direction was handled.
Well now that we’ve got that out of the way lets list some anime with style.
Why not start with my personal favorite of the bunch and a perfect example of a series whose unique art style added a lot to the show. In a genre riddled with strict guidelines and intense competition, it’s almost impossible to imagine that a series would purposely try to go against the grain and yet still be successful and popular enough to still be competing with the best in Shounen today. It’s obvious that Atsushi Okubo the original creator of Soul Eater has a unique sense of style with his manga and we were lucky enough to see this transition untarnished and possibly polished when it made its way onto the screen. Soul Eater has a very ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ feel to it, with its bright colors and quirky character designs. However, It also has some very cool, gory fight sequences and visuals that it is not afraid to highlight, the subject matter also often gets dark and so does the general art design. This contrast may sound a little extreme but the art direction in this show was so well executed that you can barely tell the difference between sequences, the transition between dark and gory and light and comical is so seamless and smooth.
The architecture in the show is a mixture between Medieval fantasy and Contemporary Post Modernism with a touch of anime originality (I know its hard to wrap your head around that, you have to see it to believe it) and the character designs are, for the lack of a better word cool. Heck it even has a philosophical, singing Sword!. Soul Eater stands out from the rest of the shounen series because of all these factors, the world it creates allows for the Grim Reaper to be a zany comical prankster without making itself look stupid or childish, it is just that well crafted. And did I mention the music? Oh Lord that music, Studio Bones did a very good job with this series overall.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
This was an action comedy from studio Gianax that aired late last year about two demon slaying fallen angels that fought the powers of evil with a panty that transformed into a gun and a stocking that transformed into a sword. The character designs looked ‘western’ very similar to the Power Puff Girls and it also had sound effects displayed on the screen exactly the way the would appear in a manga. The show had very bright colors and the animation was just as wild as the action and subject matter. This show is one I find hard to recommend because I personally did not enjoy it but, the style it has is something that I really appreciated. I think it’s a show that everyone must see atleast once just to experience how different anime can be if the creators were given a chance to just go wild. I specifically liked the transformation sequence which pretty much summed up the show as a whole. The music used in the show is also very western and extremely catchy.
Panty & Stocking worked because the ‘kiddiness’ and cuteness of the default character designs highly contrasted the crudeness of the content, the show was also very wacky and zany and the colorful atmosphere helped set the mood for antics to follow. The shows staff was mainly the same as the one that was behind Gurren Lagann and it showed because the end product was very refined and polished.
This was another anime I personally didn’t enjoy much but have a lot of respect for its use of style, which is what I think it meant to portray but I talked about all that in another post. Redline was a movie that took a total of 7 years to produce and it is pretty much all hand drawn. The movie uses thick outlines and opaque shadows to contrast with its super vibrant foreground color scheme. The characters are always moving, everything is ‘animated’ in this movie and just like most of the shows in this list it is very wacky and somewhat comical. The character designs are very unique ranging from alien dogs to voluptuous magical girls. I also really really loved the music, it was a combination of techno, smooth jazz and some hip hop.
This movie sells itself on style alone and without a doubt is the magnum opus of animation in anime today, you will NOT see anything like this anywhere for a long time and possibly ever.
3D CG animation is often frowned upon in the anime community both in the fandom and in the industry, which I totally understand because as of today it still has a fair ways to go before it can be implemented into a show or movie without looking as unsightly or amateurish as a low budget CG indie game cut scene. However, Appleseed which was produced in 2004 came pretty close to getting the formula just right for a 3D CG anime. The setting of the movie was a combination of a Futuristic Utopian community and a post apocalyptic war ravaged backyard. The show had a lot of Mechs and a lot of cool action scenes that would have demanded an extremely high budget to produce in the conventional 2D method. The use of cel shading AKA ‘toon rendering’ helped the movie look similar to regular anime which meant the basic target audience was not alienated.
The style has been copied and refined over the years with the most notable and surprising use being Kenji Kamiyamas’ upcoming remake of Cyborg 009.
Samurai Champloo(Shinichiro Watanabe)
Shinichiro Watanabe is one of the few Directors that has a certain distinct style that he carries with him to each and every one of his projects. His use of western music and popular culture fused into the very Japanese feel of anime has become a trademark of his with my personal favourite being Samurai Champloo. The most notable characteristic of Champloo is its use of Hip Hop, it surprisingly blends really well with the over the top, stylistic fight scenes and it also works well for the comedic scenes. The character designs are typical manglobe, dude with an afro, shorts and some sandals mixed with a stoic Samurai that wears glasses. The show has its gory and serious moments but the over the top comical scenes are what stand out the most.
Watanabe seems to thrive on making his anime look ‘cool’ which is why so many Western fans love his work.
Director Akiyuki Shinbo has become somewhat of a ‘household name’ (atleast in the anime community) of late with mega hits such as Madoka Magica and Bakemonogatari in his resume. His work is quite unique and interesting but depending on your personal aesthetic tastes it can also be very polarising. Bakemonogatari (my favourite of his works so far) is best described as an animated side-show. There is very heavy use of editing between scenes and most of the time the screen is covered with text or random inanimate objects. The angles Shinbo uses are also quite uncustomary with the trademark ‘side glance thingy’ he always uses not forgetting his obsession with close ups on random body parts.
In Madoka Magica he used random real life objects such as cloth or paper for backgrounds and they complemented the light and colorful 2d figures so well. This is a technique that he refined in his Zetsubou Sensei franchise, some other reviewers called it a stop motion collage. Bakemonogatari had all these techniques put into a blender and topped with the finest cream, it is something everyone must see atleast once, if you can get past the fanservice that is.
Horou Musuko/Usagi Drop
I grouped these two together because of their obvious visual similarities. They both use a washed out, water color-like color scheme which creates a feel good and mellow atmosphere when watching the show. This was very important considering the fact that the subject matter in these shows got depressing and pretty heavy most of the time. The use of opaque white highlights also gives the show a dreamy like aura that’s is only often used in flashback scenes in regular anime.
Unlike the shows above, I can’t really sell these two on style alone but it is worth mentioning that had they been animated in the conventional way they wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact.
In the end I suppose the greatest benefit of having anime with different styles is that it gives the creators freedom to animate whatever and however they feel like, resulting in fresh and unique ideas that go on to be the standard for future animators.