In the grand wheelhouse of shows, it’s hard to think of one where the mode of animation is forgettable in a good way. Whenever we talk about CGI in anime it’s usually under the guise of a bigger conversation: budget limits or lazy background. Luckily, we’re able to find the humor in a hoard of same-faced 3D models walking down the street as our protagonist shoves their way through, but it doesn’t prevent us from feeling like something is wrong. Perhaps the animators are hoping the tension of the scene will distract us, but as more and more studios utilize CGI to bring manga to life, we’ll have to see whether we can come to a point where it doesn’t make us weary.
For anyone who grew up in the 90s or the early 2000s, 2D animation was the bread and butter of the anime experience. Series like His and Her Circumstances even left manga panels in the final animation—we were so accustomed to the art of the sketch. It was easy to imagine someone hunched over their sketchbook, scribbling rough renditions of a walk sequence and flipping through pages to make sure it was fluid. Domestically or not, 2D was (and still is) the expectation for anime when it gets announced. So what happens when we’re faced with a series like Vagabond—a manga so gorgeously detailed it would be impossible to animate? Do we leave it as printed art, or do we seek out a medium that could simplify the process?
For those of us who find ourselves in conversation regarding the use of CGI, the answer is old news. Some studios take a bite out of the challenge and others don’t. The problem is whether or not a 3D rendition of a show can be executed in a way that doesn’t make us sink back into our couches and groan (or cry).
Frankly, no one wants to see a 3D model of Naruto moonwalking into battle while the flute and chants of “Strong and Strike” play in the background. People make those types of videos as parodies (and have for years) because we recognize the possibility for comedy CGI gives us. All it takes is a dub from a serious scene over warped 3D animation and you’re blessed with three minutes of laughter. The issue is when the intention is good and the style just can’t keep up. Take—I’m sorry for reminding you—2016/2017 Berserk. Though I haven’t seen the series, I’ve seen enough clips of the animation to guess the good intention. Kentarou Miura’s art style is just too detailed to bring to screen, so of course we can imagine a studio wanting to do it justice, huddling around the board room and thinking, “we have to do CGI.” And did it work?
For some reason, we’re more than ready to forgive a less than fluid display of 2D animation but 3D gets the groan the second it fails to carry the emotions we felt from their 2D counterpart. There’s something “twiggy” about CGI, and so far, not a lot of fans are feeling it. But we have the gift of Houseki, and I think this might be the success we needed to change that reputation.
It is not an exaggeration to say that this anime brought me to tears. I ate it up. I nearly forgot I was looking at a fusion style (both 2D and 3D elements combined) because the execution was fluid and gorgeous. Shards slashed and crashed against iridescent pillars and hair flowed in a way that made “rigid” feel like a working insult. It could’ve been the concept that saved it—the majority of the cast is made of gems and they break like glass, so rigid is in the pitch—but that doesn’t seem to be it. It seems like studio Orange understood the limitations of CGI and knew exactly how to compensate. If a crouch is stiff then make it fluid somewhere else and hence we get scenes that have 3D models looking more like they defy gravity by 30% while their hair slowly billows in the wind. If you haven’t seen this show, please do. It may be our claim to fame in a world of increasing CGI.
Do you have any personal favorites when it comes 3D CGI usage in anime? Let us know down below!
Lauren is a 23-year-old cosplayer and writer from Chicago. Her favorite shows include Wolf’s Rain, Terror in Resonance, and Samurai Champloo. If you can’t reach her for whatever reason, she’s probably reading or figuring out how to turn her kendo skills into functional ones. She’ll be back in a minute.