Sakuga in Re:Zero

This is the first part of a series of blog posts celebrating 100 Years of Anime. (There is evidence of animated films produced in Japan before 1917, but 1917 the ‘official’ year of birth of anime.) Instead of emphasising that anime and manga are completely different media and whining about how fandom (and sometimes even scholarly discourse) around Japanese popular culture is dominated by anime at the expense of manga, The 650-Cent Plague is going to join in on the celebration and run a couple of posts on anime.

Granted, there are many similarities between anime and manga, but today we’ll look at an aspect that is specific to animation: sakuga. I haven’t seen this term in scholarly literature yet, but there are various fan/journalistic resources online (see e.g. this collection of links) that explain sakuga. These definitions are fuzzy and somewhat contradictory – for instance, some stress the importance of the authorship of individual outstanding key animators while others are based on the number of animated frames per second – but all agree that ‘sakuga’ basically means ‘scenes of extraordinary animation quality’ (as opposed to the overall animation quality of an anime series). ‘Animation quality’ is, of course, another fuzzy term (is it about the amount of labour, ingenuity, or aesthetic effect?), but let’s for once not overtheorise things and instead turn to some examples of what I feel might pass as sakuga.

For many people, Re:ゼロから始める異世界生活 / Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World (White Fox, dir. Masaharu Watanabe) was the best anime series of 2016. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but it’s definitely an anime series that exemplifies the state of the art of contemporary animation quality, and as such should be a rich source of sakuga. For the following list I’ve picked one sakuga scene from each episode:

Episode 1A, 24:46-25:14 – Emilia summons the ‘lesser spirits’ which are essentially semitransparent blue spheres hovering in different directions, but they also illuminate both background and characters in blue light. Also notice how some of the spheres move in front of the characters and others behind them, so it’s not just one layer placed on top of the image.

Episode 1B, 18:25-18:47 – Rom swings his club against Elsa, accidentally destroying his own furniture along the way. Collapsing structures are a popular motif of sakuga (see the ‘debris’ tag at Sakugabooru).

Episode 2, 16:01-16:05 – The hut into which Subaru crashes is another beautifully collapsing item.

Episode 3, 16:28-17:03 – Reinhard’s impressive sword attack move starts with an effect similar to the ‘lesser spirits’ in Episode 1A followed by a quick succession of various other effects.

Episode 4, 23:04-23:12 – Beatrice’s hair contracts and expands like a coil spring.

Episode 5, 1:03-1:08 – Smooth animation of the shadows cast by the lattice windows.

Episode 6, 5:22-5:31 – Puck conjures a jet of water which acts as a semi-transparent layer that twists the background and characters behind it.

Episode 7, 18:54-19:36 – Another nice animation of Betty’s hair; this time her locks are being moved by the wind.

Episode 8, 19:43-20:38 – Not so much a matter of animation per se, but the subtle colouring of this scene beautifully evokes the lighting situation at sunset.

Episode 9, 10:09-11:16 – The fire of the torch and the braziers is both a moving semi-transparent layer and a source of lighting.

Episode 10, 19:37-19:43 – Rem’s chain moves like a chain should.

Episode 11, 0:46-0:50 – There are lots of magical special effects in this episode, the most impressive one right at the beginning while the credits still roll: rays of magical light followed by a kind of supernatural whirlwind.

Episode 12, 0:36-0:45 – This one might be hard to see on the still because it’s such a subtle effect: sunlight falls through the trees and creates a pattern of patches of light and shadow on the characters which moves as they walk.

Episode 13, 20:47-20:48 – In close-ups such as this one, Emilia’s forelock (and also Rem’s) turns into an opaque layer.

Episode 14, 22:11-22:13 – As the dragon cart brakes sharply, the ‘camera’ revolves slightly around it.

Episode 15, 21:28-23:16 – Many cool things happen in this episode, but it’s particularly famous for its long ending credits scene in which Subaru and Rem are slowly engulfed in an ever-intensifying snowstorm.

Episode 16, 3:57-3:59 – Subaru’s moving image is reflected in the steaming tea cup.

Episode 17, 3:05-3:12 – The rope Subaru holds on to splinters.

Episode 18, 4:12-4:15 – This episode has become legendary in itself due to the long and emotional dialogue between Subaru and Rem. Before that dialogue, however, there is a brief shot of a bowl of apples falling to the ground, in which the objects move not only downward but also ricochet off the floor in different directions, and they even rotate too.

Episode 19, 23:36-23:55 – The White Whale’s halo tilts along with it.

Episode 20, 5:16-5:19 – Another nicely animated shot of the White Whale turning in flight.

Episode 21, 19:42-19:52 – A backlighting effect employed three times in this episode: the rays of the sun seamlessly connect background to foreground.

Episode 22, 3:50-3:55 – The spatial arrangement of the characters requires them to be moved in three layers as the ‘camera’ revolves around their circle.

Episode 23, 13:28-13:33 – Explosions are a sakuga staple, and this one is a short but impressive combination of fire and smoke.

Episode 24, 8:03-8:07 – While the wagon moves diagonally to the left and away from the viewer, the lantern that is attached to it swings sideways.

Episode 25, 8:02-8:13 – Otto’s wagon is drawn by both a two-legged and a four-legged creature.

So these are the sakuga scenes I found most impressive in each episode. Did I miss one? Tell me in the comments. Check out the Re:Zero sakuga at Sakugabooru too.


Artifacts from Japan, part 1: Totoro

Chū Totoro plush figure

This fellow here is ‘Chū Totoro’ / ‘Middle Totoro’, or ‘Blue Totoro’, one of (Big) Totoro’s two little helpers from Hayao Miyazaki’s anime classic となりのトトロ / My Neighbor Totoro. In this incarnation, Chū Totoro is a 4.5 cm tall plush figure. It comes with a chain to be used as a mobile phone strap charm or keychain pendant.

The interesting thing about it is, it was sold in a small department store in Ōsaka along with other merchandise, such as pencil cases or towels, of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh and other characters. All three of said characters are from multi-media franchises: people who buy their merchandise might know them from a television series, a comic, an animated film, or a novel. Or they might not even know where they know them from. Some characters become more popular through their merchandise than through narrative media, even if the publication of the latter precedes the former.

Take Snoopy, for instance: countless children all over the world probably have a Snoopy T-shirt or a Snoopy eraser without ever having read the Peanuts comic or watched the animated films. While we (as scholars of Japanese popular culture, or students of anime, or international ‘otaku‘) naturally trace back the Totoro characters to a single work, the aforementioned My Neighbor Totoro anime, maybe it’s different for children in Japan. For them, Totoro might be another Snoopy, as it were, who has simply always been there.


“The Capsule’s Pride (Bikes)”: Bwana remixes Akira soundtrack

Bwana, producer of electronic music from Toronto/Berlin, has released an EP titled The Capsule’s Pride (Bikes) (Comicgate reported last week) for which he had rearranged the Akira anime soundtrack into 9 EDM tracks. This EP is available for free both as audio stream and YouTube video playlist. The latter is more interesting in this context: each video consists of a sparsely animated black-and-white still image from Akira. The funny thing is, the images are taken from the manga, not from the anime.

still from Capsule's Pride (Bikes) by Bwana

It’s funny because not only music samples were taken from the anime, but also dialogue samples (from the English dub) that directly refer to the major plot difference between the comic and its adaptation: “there is your messiah…” (in both track 1 and 5). At first I thought, whoever made those videos didn’t know the material well. On the other hand, at least two of the videos fit the titles of the corresponding tracks: the video for the title track “Capsule’s Pride (Bikes)” shows Kaneda on his motorcycle (pictured) – his first one, the one he has when he is still leader of the “Capsule” gang – and the video for “K&K (Lovers in the Light)” shows Kei and Kaneda. Another nice touch is that the Canon decal in the former image has been inconspicuously replaced by one bearing Bwana’s name.


Jamie-Lee Kriewitz, “manga singer”?

photograph from The Voice of Germany by ProSiebenA couple of weeks ago, a headline in a local German newspaper caught my eye: “Manga singer wins The Voice of Germany” (a television talent show similar to Idol(s)/Superstar). What on earth could a “manga singer” be? Maybe someone who writes songs about manga stories? There is one German YouTuber I know of, Daniela Winkler a.k.a. Horrorkissen, who sings not only cover versions of anime theme songs but also her own songs about anime characters, cosplayers, etc.

Jamie-Lee Kriewitz, the aforementioned “manga singer”, does no such things as far as I know. Instead, her designation as “manga singer” (sometimes also “manga voice” or “manga girl”) in the media seems to be based on three other things:

  1. According to one newspaper article I’ve found, she likes to draw manga, and she is pictured drawing something (in a photograph provided by her television channel). Unlike Daniela Winkler, however, I don’t think she has published any manga, and there’s no connection between her manga drawing and her singing.
  2. Jamie-Lee Kriewitz said she is a fan of K-pop, i.e. pop music from South Korea. This has very little to do with manga, but some journalists still manage to link together Kriewitz’s music to “animation film pop” to anime to J-pop to her K-pop endorsement.
  3. Something all media outlets comment on are her stage outfits, which are apparently inspired by Japanese fashion – particularly Decora style, or Decora Kei. I have to take Kriewitz’s word for it because I can’t tell all the Japanese fashion styles apart, but the funny thing is that her clothes form the basis on which the media draw the connection to manga. On her first The Voice performance, she wore a hooded sweater modeled after Stitch from Lilo & Stich – i.e. a character from an animated film, not even from a comic – and this seems to have triggered an amalgamation of “Japan” and “animation” into “manga” in some people’s heads. This idea was further cemented at the Voice of Germany season final on which one of the coaches wore a Dragon Ball outfit as an allusion to Kriewitz’s style. She also said she cosplays at conventions, but her stage outfits aren’t strictly speaking cosplay in the sense that she portrayed a particular character (let alone a manga character).

photograph from The Voice of Germany, ProSieben

So Jamie-Lee Kriewitz’s “manga singer” denomination stands on shaky ground, to say the least. But I bet we’ll hear a lot more of that sort when she competes in the German preliminaries for the Eurovision Song Contest on February 25.


German manga (?) magazines: Animania and Koneko

I have already lamented the demise of German manga anthology magazines on this weblog (Daisuki, the last monthly anthology, was cancelled in 2012). But what about journalistic periodicals that write about manga? As far as I know, there are two German-language magazines of potential interest for manga readers: Animania (or “AnimaniA”) and Koneko.

Cover of AnimaniA 06-07/2013Animania

Frequency: every other month
Publisher: Animagine, Hachenburg
Pages: 98
Price: €7.80 (DVD edition)
Website:
http://www.animania.de

The launch of Animania predates that of Koneko by 10 years: first published in 1994, Animania is probably the earliest German magazine on Japanese pop culture. As the name suggests, its focus is on anime rather than manga. However, on average more than 20 of its pages are exclusively devoted to manga (including artbooks). Additionally, a lot of manga articles refer to their anime adaptations and vice versa. Apart from manga news and reviews, the latest issue (06-07/2013) even contains short interviews with manga authors Tite Kubo, Kanan Minami and Mikiko Ponczeck. Animania covers other areas of Japanese pop culture as well, but not as extensively as Koneko (with the exception of video games, which are given slightly more coverage in the former).

Konekocover of Koneko #56

Frequency: every other month
Publisher: raptor, Frankfurt am Main
Pages: 98
Price: €4.95 (D)
Website:
http://www.raptor.de/koneko.php

Koneko covers a lot of different areas of Japanese pop culture, which reduces the space given to manga coverage. A typical issue contains only 13 pages on which manga are the sole subject (although there are many other pages on which manga is one of several subjects). This includes drawing guides, portraits of fan artists, and also 6 pages of a dōjinshi, an original comic submitted by a reader (arranged on 3 magazine pages).

Generally, Koneko seems to reach out more to its readers, the vast majority of which appear to be teenage girls. Animania on the other hand makes a somewhat more mature impression, and is more focused on the anime/manga scene. For this reason I find it more appealing than Koneko, which I would only recommend to someone who is also interested in J-pop. Still, it is a pity that, after the cancellation of MangasZene in 2007, there is no German magazine in which manga are the primary topic, and not just one small part of a purported all-encompassing fandom of Japanese pop culture.