Budget Heroes

As fans of anime and perhaps animation in general, it’s pretty easy to spot when something is well-animated or poorly animated. While a little trickier, it’s also certainly possible to notice good visual direction in a show. What’s more difficult is being able to notice when a show’s funding has been used intelligently, or when the creators have had to make due with limited resources. The men and women responsible for such arcane trickery are Budget Heroes, and I think they’re deserving of at least some praise.

I have to say, I’m not that good at spotting the handiwork of a Budget Hero. However, I can think of a few instances.

Evangelion is sometimes ridiculed for having poor budget usage, resulting in clip show and recap episodes. Evangelion also frequently uses still images over extended periods of time. Some might call it lazy, but I would say that the way Gainax pulled it off gave these scenes a sense that the stillness was more than appropriate. There are elevator scenes, where characters will be standing on opposite ends, not moving, not saying a word to another, as the hum of the elevator resonates. It’s one frame and some noise, but it goes a long way in showing just how awkward that silence is. Then there’s the 60+ scene of EVA-01 holding Kaworu in his hand. Again, a still image, and yes they could have shown Shinji in the cockpit panicking and hyperventilating but they didn’t. I wouldn’t call it a purely artistic choice, but it’s at the very least intelligent use of limited resources.

A more recent example is SHAFT’s Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. The show frequently experiments with unusual forms of animation, such as paper cut-outs, puppets, and clay, and sometimes it’s clearly to cut corners in animation. The show even pokes fun at itself for doing this, choosing not to hide behind the idea that it was artistic intention. Still, it’s really well done and I think it reinforces the overall off-kilter look and feel of the show.

This is not to knock the hard work of talented animators who have the benefit of funding to really pull off some incredible scenes. Talent is talent after all. And in the end, without doing any serious research into animators and studios, it’s difficult to discern who truly is a budget hero. For all we know, Musashi Gundoh had a budget of 100 yen and a pack of coupons and the animators were miracle workers. But I just wanted to remind myself and others that often times things simply do not go as planned and that animation isn’t cheap to produce, even at the comparatively lower amounts that Japan is used to.

The Passive Protagonist

I’ve learned that many, many people do not like passive protagonists. They are seen as weak-willed, indecisive, unpleasant to watch, and just plain too passive. There’s nothing I can do to stop people from feeling this way, but it makes me wonder why I, for example, like the passive protagonist whose life is changed by circumstances beyond his control.

The second most hated anime protagonist of all time is everyone’s favorite human male Evangelion pilot Ikari Shinji (thanks, Itou Makoto for taking the position of most hated). Shinji is a very passive protagonist who, while capable of taking action, only does so as a reaction to things happening around him. It’s not because he’s poorly written, or that he’s necessarily a surrogate for the viewer. Shinji is the way he is, and his passive nature is a direct result of the events in his life, as well as his inability to truly take action for himself.

I can’t fault Shinji for that. I can’t even fault him for never quite getting over it, just as I can’t really fault people for not liking Shinji’s character. But it makes me think of the sheer difference two lives can experience to the point that one person will connect to a character such as Shinji while the other will immediately reject him. And of course, one may turn into the other as we accumulate more experiences in our lives.

Understanding the “Emotionless” Anime Girl

I’ve heard it all before, about how otaku like the quiet, blue-haired anime girls because they’re empty dolls onto which fans can imprint any sort of fantasy on them. It’s supposed to be a selfish fantasy that speaks nothing of REAL women.

And this is wrong.

The first step to understanding the “emotionless” anime girl is to realize that they’re not emotionless at all. More important than the quiet distance that they usually provide is the evidence of emotion that appears. Because they are so quiet all the time, any actions they take are that much more significant. They may even say that they’re unable to feel anything, but when evidence proves otherwise, it fascinates the viewer, who gets a brief glimpse at what the character may really be all about.

Ayanami Rei’s stern reaction to Shinji holding that pair of broken glasses.

Eureka’s simple comment that Renton is “interesting.”

Nagato Yuki contributing to the defeat of the Computer Club.

Vanilla H’s anything and everything.

And of course, Hoshino Ruri discovering her childhood.

If someone wants a blank slate to fantasize over, the truth is that any character will do. But fans who love the “emotionless” type do not do it out of some desire for an everywoman, they do it out of the desire to see what this specific girl is all about. More important than imprinting an image onto the character is striving to find out what the character is all about.

PS: As I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t count Kawazoe Tamaki in this category. She’s just a quiet girl who wears her heart on her sleeve.