Examples of Anime’s Cel to Digital Conversion

Though much less frequent these days as the anime industry has all but completely converted to using digital means to animate shows (Sazae-san I believe is an exception which still uses cels), it wasn’t so long ago that debates about the merits of cel animation vs digital animation were a common sight among certain groups of otaku. Those on the side of cels would accuse digital animation of lacking life and energy, those on the side of digital would ask the cel supporters why they liked having dust on their animation frames so much. These days, I think it’s fair to say that much like 2d vs 3d animation, or drawing with paper vs drawing with a tablet, each has its own merits.

It can be difficult to compare digital to cel in the sense that usually entire shows have been done one way or the other, but there are a few which were made during that transitional period between cel and digital, and so they too are transitional. A brief list follows, if you want to take a closer look.

1) The Big O

Season 1 was done with cel animation, the Cartoon Network-sponsored Season 2 was done entirely digitally. Some will say that the second season lacked something the first had in terms of visuals, possibly that everything feels too “clean.” Judge for yourself.

2) Galaxy Angel

Again, Season 1 was all cel while for Season 2 Broccoli decided to go digital. They also decided to cover up Forte Stollen’s cleavage but that’s a discussion for another time.

3) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Stardust Crusaders)

In an odd twist, the later parts of the manga were animated in the 90s while the earlier parts were animated in the 2000s. Watching this show in chronological order can be very unusual.

4) Gaogaigar Final

Now this was really meant to be a big budget OVA and it shows. Gaogaigar Final began production in 1999 (with the first episode out in 2000), and ended in 2003. Being an OVA, there was a long period between each episode, so the jump to digital is rather sudden when watched side to side. This is probably the one that best exemplifies the power of both cel and digital animation.

7 thoughts on “Examples of Anime’s Cel to Digital Conversion

  1. I like both fine enough, and modern shows that incorporate cels tend to do it in fucking awesome ways (Simoun, Mushishi, etc._) I certainly get the life and energy thing, being that I love 90s style shows, but I think it’s been done well enough in modern shows too. I mean, look at Sengoku Basara…..

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  2. 21DB: I don’t believe Simoun had cels. I’m pretty sure it was all digital.

    NieA_7 was all-digital, but much of it was done with a heavy-hand on the outlines, almost like a throw-back to 80s anime (though nothing else about the series seemed to reflect that era). I’ve always wondered about that design choice.

    I think Serial Experiments Lain is another interesting case — much of it was done with traditional cels, but at a time when computer tools were just being introduced in the anime world. And the tools were being adopted by a wonderfully creative team. As a result, Lain has a look that I haven’t seen duplicated since.

    Another thing that all-digital production allows is the elimination of outlines. It allows it, but I can’t think of any anime that takes advantage of that ability (I thought Production IG’s Windy tales did, but checking some images now, I see everything is outlined).

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  3. I had trouble, watching the original season of Hajime no Ippo, trying to figure out if it was cel or digital. Certain parts (the third OP, the movie) struck me as clearly digital, but I was never able to tell whether the rest were cel or digital. I remember thinking it looked cel, but it was hard for me to say for sure.

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