I don’t know if any of you have read Miss Smilla’s Sense for Snow. It’s a Danish criminal thriller which focuses a lot on snow. How it behaves and what it can tell us. It’s pretty interesting to convey wheater through words alone. Not entirely unlike trying to explain colours. If you’ve experienced it for yourself it’s perfectly obvious what those words mean, otherwise, it’s close to impossible to understand.

I know snow. I love it! I love cold temperatures as well. I have a fairly low heat tolerance and tend to get sick when the temperature creeps up too much. Montreal is a city of whimsical weather, to put it kindly. Temperatures range wildly and often unpredictability. All sorts of stuff falls from the sky. Speaking of which, that sky can be just about any color. Our winds are comparatively mild but they come from the sea and are full of salt. The weather is like a bratty kid here, it throws tantrums and refuses to be ignored.

I’ve always been someone who pays particular attention to the weather, even if I am an indoor kid.  And that may be why I also tend to notice it in anime.

kotohana no niwa
man this looks miserable

In both animated and live action stories weather is used as one of two things: a plot point which creates an obstacle for our protagonists or a heavy handed atmospheric cue. If the story doesn’t need the characters to be stuck somewhere or their boat to capsize, and the audience doesn’t need to be mildly number out on a grey day, then the weather will be unremarkably fine. You know, just o.k. Nothing to write home about.

Very few animes will bother to actually animate rain just because or draw wild winds you can see from a window but no one ever mentions. Why would they put in the effort. It’s even worst in live action where cg is expensive, practical effects difficult and the entire thing is almost guaranteed to cause continuity issues.

I started thinking about weather in anime recently because I made my way through Garden of Sinners. In this series of movies, the default weather is always varying degrees of not great. The sky is almost constantly overcast and more often than not there is some form of precipitation. It is in fact a mood enhancing device, the entire franchise cultivates a grim and edgy persona so the bad weather is just an extension of that, but it makes it so that average sunny days really stand out.

The Garden of Sinners Chapt 8 (24)
the orange sky is a thing too (light reflects off snow)

And to me, it also had the unexpected side effect of adding just a bit realism. Sometimes it rains on perfectly ordinary days. In fact sometimes it rains for days on end. That just happens. You can have impressive quantities of snow come down without it really changing your day in any way. Some days get windy. Weaving weather effects into the animation really goes a long way into tricking your brains into thinking you’re watching a place that *could* exist.

But it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound. I mentioned my sense of snow for a reason. I know snow well. I know that even the fat wet snowflakes that make for wonderful snowmen and can collapse roofs when they pile up, are way lighter than a thick wool scarf. So if it’s blowing in the wind there is no way delicate snow flakes are falling calmly straight down to the ground. I know if it’s snowing enough to have it coat the roads in enough snow to leave footprints, it’s also accumulating on rooftops, guardrails and branches. It can stay stuck in hair but it will melt on skin. I know all these things on an almost instinctive level so when an anime doesn’t get the details right, I instinctively know it’s not real snow.

I couldn’t find the artist

Like I said Garden of Sinners (movie 8) really got me thinking about it and it did a decent job with the snow. If I remember correctly Toradora actually wonderfully captured the eerie stillness of a calm winter night. I was expecting my breath to fog up a lot watching it. Most shows though treat it like a decoration.

I’m not as good with rain. I don’t understand it on the same level. With rain for me, it all about the soundtrack. If the rain noises are right I’m transported there, otherwise they might as well not bother animating it Still most examples that come to mind use rain in a plot specific way. It’s not just something you put in to fill out the background.

I understand that animating whether is probably unpractical but I also think that in certain anime it would really enhance the impact and delivery. It’s a subtle way to make a fictional universe suddenly seem so much more real and alive.

Do you notice weather in anime? Do you care? Do you have a favourite storm scene?

5 centimers

24 thoughts

  1. My favourite storm scene hands-down in from Ponyo. That part where she is running on the backs of gigantic fish, the rain is pouring buckets of glistening tears, and the clash of the cymbols and the strings are pure Waugner.
    So joyous!

  2. Hm, I can’t really think of many weather scenes. When others mention them, I remember them, and kick myself for not thinking of it myself. For example, I remember Non Non Biyori having a pretty good winter episode, but I don’t remember it directly – I remember not remebering it in another context (that is, back then someone thought of it, and I didn’t). This time it’s the sound of rain episode of Girl’s Last Tour; that was utterly beautiful, and I wish I had thought of it myself. But, well, better to be reminded by Aria than not to remember at all. That’s part of what makes listicles such fun, too.

  3. I don’t have a favourite storm scene, but since I finished watching ep. 17 of Demon Slayer a few days back, the image of the newly-blonde (at the time) Zenitsu in a tree struck by lightning pops into my head when you say “lightning”.

    One of the things I liked from Girls’ Last Tour was the segment called “The Sound of Rain”, which is just the main characters appreciating the symphony of noises rain makes on tins and other things.

    Summer in anime is one I’m intimately familiar with in the way you describe your relationship with snow – show me “min min min” across the page (or alternatively, get audio of cicada sounds), the heat haze, people lying on the floor in minimal clothing sweating with the fan/AC on full blast and/or cicadas on trees and I’ll start feeling like I need to sweat…

  4. The best anime rain I have ever seen was The Garden of Words. It is beautiful and fully realized.

    I understand what you are saying about snow. I was a bit of an amateur meteorologist as a child.

  5. Seasons and weather in anime and in real life have such a huge influence on my viewing experience! I love how Steins;Gate and Eva are stuck in perpetual summer, the cicadas always screaming at us to remind us of the heat. I also thoroughly enjoy the changing seasons in Garden of Words and A Lull in the Sea from hot summer to wintry cold. Not an anime, but I also remember Avatar the Last Airbender featuring some fluctuations in weather, one particular sunny day turning to fierce storm, signaling the coming of danger.

    1. For Eva it was thematic and for Steins;Gate it was narrative. Great examples now I’m thinking of changing seasons

  6. The point about “real” weather behavior really resonates. Sometimes it does just feel like decoration, but with the right direction can be incredibly powerful. One anime weather mood that sticks with me is in “5 Centimeters Per Second,” where the two main characters sit in the Iwafune train station with hellacious snow outside. The inside light is somehow very white but very dim, and the sound stays low even as they talk–that room feels frigid on the screen. I know exactly what kind of room they’re sitting in. I’ve sat in that room, somewhere in my life. It’s brilliant. (“Garden of Sinners” was definitely a knock-out, though.)

    Anyway, look at me ramble. Your analysis posts always really provoke thought! Thank you for posting.

    1. You now – I thought no one would care at all abut this subject – I am delighted I’m not the only one who notices these things!

  7. No – pretty standard anime thing. The two that immediately come to mind are Serena (Sailor Moon) and Haruhi (Ouran High School Host Club) who jump and hide at the slightest hint of thunder, but they aren’t alone.

  8. I usually only notice the weather when it is clearly a plot device or anime girls are doing that silly afraid of lightning thing that seems so common.

  9. I haven’t read the book Smilla’s Sense of snow, but I have seen the movie with Julia Ormond which was honestly very good.
    As for noticing weather in anime, I definitely do. I saw Pinkie mentioning it as well, but it played a big part in Erased, and I though it added a lot to the atmosphere of the series. I think weather in a big part can have an impact on a series, so yes I do tend to notice these kind of things 😊😊Great post about an interesting subject! 😊

    1. You know what I really like – when you see characters’ breath fog up when they speak. It’s instant atmosphere for me

  10. Looks like we both have a knack for using obscure references in our article titles. Hahaha!

    Weather can be a unique thing. I don’t like it when it’s used for pathetic fallacy like heavy rain for a sad scene. I think Shinkai has been great at showing weather in a bunch of his movies and not just because of the scenery.

  11. I remember the snow in Erased never sticking to anyone, with very little footprints eithers.
    Sometimes of the main characters but there would not be anything else. Like no one walks around there ever. Clannad did it a bit better, but still felt more thematic than actual snow.
    Rain for me mostly is just there.. I remember the rain from the Bleach movie/OVA but that’s about it.

    My favorite rain based scene if from Fullmetal Alchemist though. When Roy visits the grave of Maes Hughes. When he says it’s raining in perfect dry weather shedding a tear for his friend. I found that one very powerful because lots of anime throw rain showers around at just about every major funeral. That it didn’t happen there but he referenced it more or less is my favorite rain scene 😛

    1. That is brilliant! And you’re right – superimposing beautiful bright weather on sad or scary situations can create a powerful dissonance that really gets at the audience! Great call

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