The new anime season continues, and as usual, I’m sampling a dozen or more shows, trying to scout out which of them are worth recommending to you here. As it has been the trend in recent years, many of the offerings put forth by studios are made with the “cel-look CGI animation system” developed by a company called Graphinica, which tries to re-create the look and feel of 2D animation with computers, because as you know, animators just make so much money. So far this season we’ve got…
- BanG Dream season 2. Part of the trend of mobile games making so much money that they’re able to flood the market with anime, even if it’s of mediocre quality and fails to make a splash. Sadly, BanG Dream season 2 is 100% CGI, which I was unable to watch.
- Dimension High, a new concept at least, blending a live-action school story based around five male idols who get sucked into a low-quality CGI world where they do quizzes and stuff.
- The Kotobuki Squadron in the Wilderness, which features some excellent WWII aeroplane battles.
- Kemurikusa, a show about cute girls battling mushi (bugs), until they meet a kind of “bug” they’ve never encountered before, a human boy. The CGI was almost good enough to fool me for a few minutes.
- A new season of Kemono Friends, which I’ll post about later, certainly.
I’m definitely no fan of attempts to turn anime into computer-generated cutscenes from video games. I loved Fist of the North Star back in the 80s and was curious about the prequel, Fist of the Blue Sky set in the 1930s in China. But the 100% CGI animation was so bad, I barely got through the first episode. Have you ever watched a whole series because of a single gif? I did, watching BBK/BRNK, and my impression was…well I don’t know, because despite being pretty, it was like having a video game on in screen saver mode. Something about CGI animation trips my “uncanny valley” circuitry.
One of my concerns is that the “cel-look” CGI is difficult or impossible to form an emotional attachment to, in the same way as traditional moe characters can melt our hearts with their big, pouting eyes and perfectly designed facial expressions. Have you ever felt a strong attachment to a CGI waifu or husbando? I don’t believe I have. I’m a big fan of anime girls’ butts in general, but even the significant buttocks of Angela Balzac (heh) from Expelled from Paradise doesn’t quite do it for me. If we can’t form a strong emotional connection to the characters, it will fade quickly as soon as we’re done watching, rather than inspiring annual re-watchings, collecting figures and other things that are good for the industry.
Of course, CGI definitely has a place in our beloved industry. Initial D could not have been made without CGI for the driving scenes, and I was happy to ignore the use of CGI for the battle scenes in SSSS.Gridman because the rest of the show was such a work of art. Golden Kamuy is a fabulous series filled with amazing characters, so who cares if they cut corners with the CGI bear attacks? Space battles, idol dancing, and Russian ice skating are all fine uses of CGI.
While some 100% CGI animation has been quite good, like Blue Arpeggio and Knights of Sidonia, it seems best when used to create something that doesn’t try to be traditional 2D anime, like the 2006 Appleseed movie or the 2013 Captain Harlock CGI film, which were as stylistically different from traditional anime as Pixar is to Disney. Perhaps the single best CGI animation from Japan has been Land of the Lustrous, a CGI production about girls made of crystal, who shatter easily if they’re jarred or fall. It was the closest thing to being worthy of comparison to the original Fantasia I can think of.
(Edit: I also love Beastars. It’s frigging awesome.)
Perhaps the problem is that this CGI cell-look animation is being branded as “anime.” If it were called something else, perhaps “CGI animation” or “digital anime,” perhaps I’d treat it as a totally new thing, not some kind of redheaded stepchild of traditional anime. Sadly the Japanese don’t restrict the meaning of the term as strictly as hardcore Western otakus, do, regularly calling animation from Disney and Pixar “anime,” so to them this is just another kind of animation to put out into the marketplace.
It’s a new month, and we’ve got lovely new J-List Box snack boxes up for you to order! Since it’s Valentine’s Day, naturally are two snack boxes are extra special, suitable for sharing with someone you love…or hoarding to yourself if that’s your preference. Browse all the fun items now, and don’t forget to check out this month’s “naughty” J-List Box offering too.