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.
11 thoughts on “Animations vs Visuals”
I know you won’t read my review of this anime for the reasons stated in your post (assuming, that is, you haven’t already written the review and it’s not sitting in your queue waiting to post – in which case, why haven’t you read my review?) but I think you make an important distinction here between quality of animation and visual aesthetics. And I agree with you: there is a difference.
That said, I didn’t notice the problems you cited. Maybe I’m less observant than you. Maybe the visual aesthetics managed to successfully mask any problems with the animation (for me, anyway). Or maybe I just thought what was problematic for you in terms of animation’s execution was in keeping with, or meshed with, the visual aesthetic. It’s all subjective, of course, but it’s these differences in perception that makes the world such an interesting place…
I probably do lump animation and visual designs together a little too often. You’re right that it’s very different. In general the designs are a lot more important to me than animation. If the characters barely move but everything looks good then I’m all set. The animation can be incredibly smooth but if it’s a style I don’t care for like Pop Team Epic then it’s just not much of a consolation to me. I need to be able to pause at almost any moment and think “This show looks really good!”
I think I’m like you. I’m fine with a series of paintings
I’m sure I’ve used “animation” as a blank statement for “all visual aspects” at one time or another, but typically, I try to make a point, at least in my head, of separating things out. So if I talk in a review about animation quality, I usually refer to actual movement. Otherwise, I try to use more specific terms for other things, like artwork style, character design, background artwork, etc. If I think all of the above is good or bad, I’ll just say something like “overall visual production values” or something similar.
When I was watching Yurucamp I noticed that they used animation to put in tiny details that helped create the characters and allow you to feel like you’re watching actual people – I remember one scene where Nadeshiko was talking about food (surprising, I know) and she was making a little scissors motion with her chopsticks to emphasize something. Another time I noticed how they animated someone squeezing the brakes when coming to a stop on her bike. Sometimes the most impressive things are what you don’t consciously notice at all.
(Just want to make it clear that I’m not ARGUING with you – I love Yurucamp but I wouldn’t rave about it’s “amazing animation.”)
Oh yeah the production of Yuru Camp was luxurious
My impression is that many people (though definitely not all) just use “animation” as short for visuals. I’m not that knowledgable about the terminology myself. Animation, as the technical term, I think is movement through a succession of images (not everything that moves is animation; there’s also camera-work – panning or zooming; for example, you might have an animated foreground while in the background you draw a non-animated cloud across the screen – like a prop across the stage).
Due to my motionsickness, for example, I tend to not mind stills during fightscenes much; it usually means less queasy cam. I usually don’t even notice lack of animation (didn’t for Fire Hunter); I might notice especially good animation – but it’s usually in the more quiet, subtle scenes I appreciate them. Oddly enough that means I appreciate animation more in slice-of-life than in action.
I remember the huge downgrade in animation between seasons 1 and 2 of One Punch man. Even I could see it, but, really, I didn’t care at all. I think I even like season 2 a little better than season 1?
However, in slice of life a scene can live or die with a little tilt of the head, or short back-and-forth hesitation. So a downgrade here might make a huge difference for me, as it affects the mood which is the primary draw for me. (Scene composition is an alternative to animation, though. Ideally you have both.)
See I have seen a lot of talking head SOL that do really well.
I don’t know. I don’t doubt that, as you say, the animation of this series could be better. But I’m wondering if the reviewers even bothered putting the team behind the series under scrutiny before declaring it subpar.
I mean yeah, if a studio with the power of GONZO or MadHouse did it? It’s subpar compared to their library of successes. But I’m thinking this was done by a fresh new studio? Or this series was made during the trying COVID era of 2020 to 2022? When animators were pushed hard for content while under the burden of lockdown and restrictions?
There has to be more to this story than just subpar animation… Or am I putting too much thought into it. Sorry if I’m just addressing this without doing a deep dive… But could you please help me push Japan aside? I’m about to write a China rant back at my home base. Because they’re rushing out a bootleg of… Ugh. Star Trek Picard Season 3. Really? Buck you China for making me address this!
I’m not sure. I have a few episodes to go so maybe they don’t stick the landing?
I was thinking more the production studio history, the backstory of working on the series and so on. Research that would take a lot of digging to uncover.