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.