I’m currently watching The Fire Hunter and I quite like it. I’ll be sure to share my thoughts once I’m done.
As some of you may know I usually do not read reviews before writing my own in order to not get influenced but this time I couldn’t help but glance at the quotes on the bottom of the AniList page and one thing jumped out at me. There were countless variations of complaints about bad or poor animation, even the positive reviews were stating how whatever elements they enjoyed about the show (story, characters, world building…) were basically *making up* for the animation. And I agree. I’m not here to tell you everyone else is wrong and I’m not like other reviewers!
I will probably repeat this in my review but there’s no denying that the animation is objectivity subpar. There are frequent and occasionally baffling uses of stylized still frames, we also often see a closeup of a mostly stationary characters reaction to an event instead of seeing the actual action as ways to cut down on how much animation is needed. On top of that, when it is shown on screen, movement is often jagged and uneven. That’s just not a strength of the series.
As such, when I discuss show with other anime fans, it’s something I mention. Along with the fact that character designs aren’t necessarily what we think of when we think of mainstream anime. But I’ve noticed sometimes about these interactions. When I say the animation is bad, there is this assumption/understanding that what I mean is that the show is ugly. I don’t blame people for thinking that way. When I read reviews giving the series a low rating and they concentrated on how bad the animation is, I also immediately just assumed they found the show ugly, and it wasn’t specifically the animation that was an issue.
You see, I think that most anime fans use the word animation as a short cut to mean the visual production as a whole. And although it can be a little confusing from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m sure I’ve done it myself at some point and I am not the sort of purist that would get all uppidy about semantics. But my real hot take here is that I think (I could be wrong) that most anime fans don’t actually care all that much about the “animation” proper. It’s just one aspect of the whole and usually not the most important one. But despite that, we sure talk about animation a whole lot.
Take this with a grain of salt. It’s mostly just an impression. But you see, in the past I have come across shows that were quite pretty but didn’t have great animation. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Royal Tutor. That show is full of beautifully detailed glamour shots of pretty anime boys but the animation might actually be worst than the one in Fire Hunter. It has the same tendency to use a whole lot of still shots or to put the action off screen in order to avoid having to animate anything but the still shots aren’t even stylized. It also resorts to simplifying all the character models to chibi versions of themselves AND putting them on flat single colour backgrounds when they need to move around a lot, creating a much simpler if cute version of the required animation. And the show is very unapologetic about taking all these shortcuts. It’s quite blatant really.
Despite this, I have very rarely seen reviews fixate on how bad the animation is. Certainly not like those for Fire Hunter. If it is mentioned at all, it’s sort of an after thought and isn’t given much weight at all. Because for most fans The Royal Tutor looks good. It’s full of classically attractive character models (by anime standards of course). It has big glistening colourful eyes and detailed costumes with shiny buckles and stuff. You could easily imagine these characters on a T-Shirt or sticker to slap on your laptop. And so, animation becomes sort of a non-issue all the sudden.
On a lesser scale, you could argue that most Slice of Life anime has pretty unimpressive animation. If I think of a show like Yuru Camp for example. It certainly looks good; all the characters are cute and the backgrounds are great. There is nothing wrong with the animation in any way and no particularly visible shortcuts or anything. However, by the very nature of the story, there aren’t that many scenes that call for a lot of action at all. And the production team decided to lean into the calm and introspective nature of the story which means there are a number of slow panning shots of twinkling starts in the night sky or close ups of characters still faces as a camp fire illuminates them creating softly dancing shadows.
Let me be clear, it looks great. And it’s definitely a creative choice to works for the show. Even if they had an illimited animation budget they might have still opted for this calm and still series and I think it would be the right choice. In a way, I wouldn’t say the animation is bad at all, more that the animation is just not that relevant in this show. It can use simpler techniques because that’s what fits best with the story. And honestly, Yuru Camp is fairly luxuriously produced. There are a lot of SOL anime that have even less brute animation to speak of.
I fell like I should take a moment to make it very clear that I am not deriding Slice of Life anime by saying any of this. The genre is one of my favourites and a lot of fantastic stories do not need a whole lot of movement to be told and would frankly not work if it were added.
However, I once again point out that not only is lack of animation, or at least complex and impressive animation, rarely cited as a drawback for SOL series but I have actually seem people praise animation in shows where the characters barely move at all. They look fantastic though.
Animation is a difficult, time intensive and expensive part of anime. Even with the use of CGI, it’s just a huge weight on any production. I respect shows that can find a way to lighten that load and I think some of them do it so beautifully that it’s actually a plus rather than a drawback.
It’s just that when reviewers or bloggers constantly talk about the importance of *animation* in a show when they really mean visual design, it can give people the wrong idea.