Sakuga and “Action”

When it comes to the animation itself in anime, I believe myself to be a person who can appreciate not only the well-executed but also the bold and daring, but compared to all of the sakuga fans out there who can name names and pride themselves on spotting particular animators I am but a rank amateur. Especially because ending credits of anime are in Japanese (and Japanese names can be a pain to read), it’s traditionally been difficult to find out these things, but thanks to YouTube videos, presentations, and websites such as Anipages, it’s become easier and easier to find this information out.

So now we have an accessible history of Japanese animators, with names ranging from the ultra-famous (Tezuka, Miyazaki) to ones well-regarded but not so much in the public eye (Kanada, Itano). When it comes to the way that “great animators” and “great animation” are discussed, however, there appears to be a bias—perhaps an unintentional one—towards action scenes. By action, I don’t mean just “movement,” but  displays of violence, explosions, mecha, and so on. Itano is known for his “Itano Circus,” that detailed missile barrage most associated with the Macross franchise, but if Gundam Sousei is any indication, Itano’s talents also extended to something as simple as the way a key falls. And yet, much of what I hear and read about sakuga emphasizes “action.”

The appeal of a good fight scene, be it between two humans or two robots or even two planes, is fairly obvious, I would think. It catches the eye immediately, and there’s a lot of movement to work with. What I’m wondering, though, is to what extent this focus on action has shaped the discourse of “great animation in anime,” and whether or not that may have changed over the past decade or so.

Anime looks different now than it did two or three decades ago, and in that time the amount of mecha in anime has also risen and fallen, while the detailed animation of cute girls has increased. Though I say this without any real evidence to back me up (so please prove me wrong if you can), I get the feeling that the fans who grew up to be animators in the anime industry took to heart that which they saw on TV, so a generation of animators who fell in love with Yamato and Gundam wound up in the anime of the 80s and 90s, pushing “mecha” and “action” forward. But at some point, the new generation became the old, and the one that has started to take its place has its interests elsewhere, be that cute girls or something else entirely.

I can only assume that there have always been animators in love with the girls they animate (so to speak), so this isn’t strictly a new vs. old, but perhaps that the ratio has changed to the extent that values about animating have changed as well. That, and maybe changes to the toy industry connected to all of this may play a role as well.

This is not my condemnation of animators who work for the sake of giving motion to cute girls (or boys), as when you think about it that’s no better or worse than animating for the sake of mecha violence, and as I stated, this is not my expertise. If this is merely a mistaken hunch, then I’ll be glad to learn more.

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2 thoughts on “Sakuga and “Action”

  1. I think changes in fan appreciation has also to play a role in this. Sakuga fans can catch, praise and explain the more subtle moments of great animation to American bumpkins like myself, thanks to the Internet. But ten or twenty years ago, I imagine the only animation that would have caught people’s attention enough to remember names would be the flashy action sequences, and the few who do appreciate more subtle animation just didn’t have the platform to explain themselves.

    For what it’s worth, I had a similar line of thinking when I wrote about The Maturation of Moe (http://thosedamncartoons.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/the-maturation-of-moe-its-only-natural-to-grow-up/) – a title that is only somewhat aspirational- but that was speculative as well.

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  2. I’d say you’re mostly wrong. Take into consideration the greatest exponent of “cute girls sakuga”, The Idolm@ster; it’s the result of taking a bunch of incredibly talented mecha/action animators (most of them Gainax people) and having them draw idols. They’ve had great fun with the project and it’s obvious they wouldn’t mind doing something similar, but that doesn’t change the fact that people like Amemiya, sushio, Takata or even Nishigori himself are known because of their action animation. It’s the kind of work they’ve done the most and what they’re widely known for. Sure, sometimes they’ll join a huge project like this, or they might have a random appearance in minor series. And their work is sure to appear in animation compillations because they’re incredibly skilled. But even then, the mandatory scenes from long running shounen shows and many cuts from action anime by the big studios are still the base of your average monthly sakuga video.

    And don’t worry about the new generation of animators leaning more for cute girls. As it turns out, young people will always love drawing robots and explosions.

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