by Justin Sevakis,
Hey everybody. Due to time constraints this week, I'm returning back to 3 questions. Hopefully I can expand some more next week.
I am among probably the most vocally reviled groups of American Anime Fans, the one who unabashedly enjoys Ecchi and Heavy Fanservice shows. There is a debate waiting around every corner in online anime communities to discuss how distracting Fanservice is, How violence is okay but jiggly oppai is just going too far, or how these particular fans (I can assume I'm being included) are doing a disservice towards helping make Anime more culturally acceptable. I'm not writing to really involve myself in any of these discussions as I like what I like and am not about to try to convince others. My question though, is there a similar attitude of this kind of criticism in Japan where these shows originate or is it just an accepted part of their culture?
While I don't think the conversations about boobs in anime are necessarily the same in Japan and the United States, I can definitely say that such things aren't really accepted by the mainstream over there. Exactly HOW not-mainstream, of course, depends on who you ask.
On the surface, Japan, and Tokyo in particular, seem extremely permissive of everything pervy. This is nothing new, of course. I think what really separates Japanese and Western sensibilities when it comes to things like that is the fact that in Japan, people generally don't poke their noses into things that don't immediately interest them, and everyone tends to keep their hobbies to themselves. What can seem huge and mainstream from over here is, in fact, niche content for a tiny audience. I've met tons of Japanese that have no idea that hentai even exists.
So when anime of an adult nature does bubble up to mainstream consciousness, it tends to make lurid TV news headlines, and it's usually as a result of some hikikomori somewhere getting arrested for doing something unspeakably lewd. As the appreciation of cartoon boobs and activities involving their buoyancy are not, and will likely never be mainstream, it simply makes for an easy target whenever someone wants to talk about society's ills, like NEETs, hikikomori, and whatever else you can think of. The real causes of society's ills -- and modern Japan seems to have a lot of ills these days -- are, of course, complex and deep rooted. But the Japanese newsmedia basically is as reactionary and simple-minded as cable news is here in the States, so there is little room for nuanced discussion.
That said, the vast majority of Japanese people are watching those news shows, and NOT watching late-night anime. They probably know some otaku in their everyday lives, but they wouldn't know it, as people keep their hobbies to themselves most of the time. And so media disapproval definitely colors how many people see the anime scene, which is further complicated by liking the non-otaku titles themselves, and the sometimes blurry line between otaku-centric anime and more mainstream fare.
In either country, it's safe to say that any debate on the "merits" of booby anime is not one worth having. Ecchi anime, unless it's horrifyingly violent and/or misogynistic, is way, way, way safer than the vast majority of the metric ton of porn that Japan produces on a daily basis, and nobody's threatening to do away with it in any manner. Indeed, it seems so harmless in comparison to almost everything else in the world today that anyone really wanting to broach the issue with you can probably safely be told to get a life.
While they have merit, my stomach sinks whenever there's major hoopla over titles like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, and anything by Miyazaki. I've got nothing against these shows, but I get frustrated with the fact that mainstream America has yet to move on from them. There's so much more to anime and manga than those titles. I know I should be grateful that any sort of anime or manga registers on the radar, but do you ever feel strained when someone finds out what you do for a living and says, "Oh! I love Totoro"?
Not really. Let's face it, those shows you mentioned ARE, in fact, some of the best anime has to offer, and has made a good impression. It's easy to forget that, when you're not an anime fan, a lot of this stuff can seem really intimidating, and unless you're the sort of person that intentionally seeks out obscure things, diving head-first into the world of anime is simply something you're not going to do. Especially when you see just how MUCH of it there is, and note that most of them are not exactly the highest of quality. That realization alone is enough to make most people say, "Hm. You know, I've seen a few of those Japanese cartoons. I liked those, but my curiosity is sated."
This is a far, far better reaction than what we used to get when we talked about anime: "isn't that all, like, porno cartoons?" If you want them to go deeper -- and they may not want to -- it's up to you to lead them to the stuff they're going to like. They may never enjoy "normal" late-night otaku-centric anime. And that's fine. It's a big genre, there's stuff for everyone, and not everyone's going to like everything.
What programs do anime studios use nowadays for animating anime? I know Photoshop and after effects have something to do with it, but are there others like ToonBoom or SAI involved? Anime like Fate/Zero and Kill La Kill are so wonderfully animated, I'm curious. Even Pokemon has improved in animation.
Anime companies vary surprisingly little when it comes to their choices of production software. It pretty much goes as follows:
For most of the grunt work of animation, nearly the entire industry relies on the RETAS! PRO HD Suite. This is a suite of applications by Japanese company CELSYS that is similar, but not quite the same as Toon Boom Animation Studio, which is used often in the US. RETAS! PRO has four components. The first is Stylos HD, which uses a Wacom tablet to quickly draw vector line art and then compile each frame into a pre-set sequence. Since the software works well over a network, this allows different teams in different countries to work on key frames and in-betweens, and for animation directors and checkers to send notes back for tweaking. In-betweens can also be made very quickly by averaging frames and then tweaking the lines. The program also takes care of most of the organizational work of figuring out what cuts are at what state of production automatically. For animators who prefer to work on paper, there's also an app called TraceMan HD, which optimizes the chore of scanning in and vectorizing paper line art.
Once the line art is done, it's time for coloring, and for that there's PaintMan HD. Paintman is mostly a very streamlined Bucket-tool app, and has many of the features of Photoshop as well -- such as gradients and alpha-channels -- though for more specialized special effects work, Adobe Photoshop is used here too. Finally, the finished sequences are dumped into a compositing app to combine the cel sequences with the backgrounds, and choreograph each with the intended camera motion. The app in RETAS! PRO is called CoreRETAS, and it's come a long way in recent years, with easy ways to do common anime things like panning cels and moving the camera along a large background layer. However, more advanced techniques require plug-ins, and/or the old-standby 800 pound gorilla of the motion graphics world, Adobe After Effects. Many of the plug-ins are proprietary and developed directly for the industry. If there's 3D work, most of that is done in Maya (Edit: 3D Studio Max is actually more common over there), again, with proprietary plug-ins, which also gets added to the composition.
Once finished sequences are exported from the compositing program, visuals are assembled in a non-linear editor such as AVID Media Composer or Final Cut Pro 7. (Some studios might have transitioned to Adobe Premiere Pro by now; most of the professional editors worldwide are moving on from Final Cut Pro, as the new version FCP X does not meet their needs.) The pencil tests are initially used to time out each cut and to work on audio, and then those shots are gradually replaced with the final composited versions once they're finished. If a final tweak needs to be made, modern workflows can usually accommodate changes to even individual cels without throwing everything off.
Things move fast in the software world, but the many developments that have taken place have mostly stayed within their established products. Artists tend to "live" in the software they use every day, so any major platform changes are met with major resistance. You learn one app, and as long as you keep up with new features, you're probably OK for at least 5-10 years. Things have been streamlined a lot, and the fact that anime can be made so much faster than before has doubtlessly helped contribute to just how much of it gets made these days.
And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.
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