Keeping Anime Simple and Shortcuts to Make an Anime Better

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Before I begin, I wanted to mention that I’ll be posting my seasonal top anime picks soon. This season had so many good shows that picking winners was going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, so I hoped that watching the complete series would help. (The difficulty starts with the very first award – best female main character – and will just continue from there. 🙂 )

So in the mean time, I had some thoughts about the shows of this season that wouldn’t really fit anywhere but in there own posts.

The first part of the title refers to an observation I’ve made after watching Wagaya no Oinari-sama and tried to pinpoint exactly why I liked it so much when nothing about the show seemed particularly memorable. I couldn’t quite figure it out; so while I was willing to grant that it was a good show the first time through, I was sure that a second go-round would reduce my opinion of the show. That was not the case though, so I continued to ponder exactly why I liked it so much. One day I remembered a saying I learned in seventh grade shop class; namely, it’s best to follow the KISS rule – “Keep It Simple, Stupid” – because making things overly complex will more-often-then-not lead to failure. It was a good rule in shop class and as often happens with these types of sayings they have other real world uses, including as a means to describe why Wagaya no Oinari-sama was good.

Wagaya_danceAnd I think it’s a good way to explain it since a simple anime may lack the slickness of a Bakemonogatari or experimental feel of a Kaiba or the boundary pushing of a The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) but it’s still able to become memorable.

I bring this up because Umi Monogatari (Sea Story) was one of the surprisingly good shows of the season and on the surface, it shouldn’t have been but there I was, getting more-and-more hooked with each passing episode. I eventually realized that much like Wagaya no Oinari-sama, it was succeeding because it stuck to being a “simple” anime. It didn’t try to outdo past shows that where similar, it didn’t try to take a current popular character type and “improve” it by increasing the traits of that character, it didn’t create an overly complex story when a simpler one worked nor did it rely on contrivances and coincidences to artificially add to the complexity of the show. Instead, Umi Monogatari created an interesting cast of characters that felt like people the viewer could actually meet (if one doesn’t count the talking turtle) and made the viewer care about them and allowed these characters to act naturally and all the drama derived from how these characters would behave.

Should every anime be simple? No. I love shows that are slick, experimental, and boundary pushing as much as the next person but I think it’s also important not dismiss shows just because they lack the latest bells-and-whistles. Is Umi Monogatari going to win a bunch of awards from me? No, but I enjoyed it and will certainly watch again in the future – something I can’t say about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 or Canaan.

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The second half of this post covers what I’ll call “shortcuts” that helped improve my liking of two shows (Umi Monogatari and Sora no Manimani) and where noteworthy enough that I wanted to share. (Especially since not a lot of people watched either show.) I say shortcuts because they were able to convey a lot of information to the viewer in a very short amount of time.

First up was the opening in the final episode of Umi Monogatari. It shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to say that this show featured an evil that threatened to defeat the side of good and the end of episode 11 left the good guys with dim prospects. And this was superbly reinforced when the animators changed the happy, light-hearted animation that accompanied the opening song with a darker version that reflected the state of affairs for the final episode. Screenshots to follow.

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Original opening
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Episode 12 Opening

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Brilliant, just brilliant. I can’t think of another show that’s done this before and seeing it done, I wonder why it was lowly Zexcs that did this and not one of the premier anime studios.

The other “shortcut” is how the choice of a voice actor and the past roles of that voice actor can instantly give a large amount of character development.

In episode 9 of Sora no Manimani, the astronomy club had the chance to meet some of the neighboring school’s astronomy clubs. This instantly added a couple dozen characters to the show and one of these new characters takes an instant liking to one of the main characters, Hime-chan, and she takes an equally opposite dislike of this guy. There’s not enough time to really show if this new guy should be liked or disliked but it’s important for Hime-chan’s character to know if the guy is nice or not since that would alter how we view her character. So the animators made a great move and got Daisuke Ono to voice him. Why great? Daisuke Ono does the voice of Itsuki, the ESPer from Haruhi that everyone finds creepy. By casting him and having him do this new character in a very similar voice of Itsuki, the animators are able to draw upon the audience’s feelings for Itsuki and instantly (as well as accurately) transfer them to this character. Now, when Hime-chan brushes him off, we all sympathize with her and love to see him finally get some payback for being so creepy.

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A character takes an interest in Hime-chan
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But here’s what he sounds like
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Justifiable Reaction
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and result.

Another example of this comes from Sora no Manimani but the situation is reversed. The potential boyfriend is voiced by Ryoko Shiraishi who’s best known for doing Hayate’s voice on Hayate the Combat Butler. This boy gets brushed off by one of the main female characters but in this case, the audience draws upon the association with Hayate to realize the this boy is a nice guy and it’s the girl that’s in the wrong. This view is vindicated by the rest of the series but by choosing the right voice actor, the audience was able to make the correct conclusion without a lot of exposition to slow done the flow of the show.

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Potential boyfriend in Sora no Manimani
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How can you say no when he sounds like Hayate.

And if we want to go one step further; let’s switch these two voice actors and think about the result. Not so pretty, if you ask me, because we would get a distorted view of the characters.

I hope I explained these well enough, if not please leave a comment and I’ll try to clarify. I’ve realized that sometimes when I right up an argument that it will make sense to me but that I leave too much unsaid so others have a hard time understanding what I’m actually trying to say.

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10 thoughts on “Keeping Anime Simple and Shortcuts to Make an Anime Better”

  1. KISS is a great way to approach most things.

    As far as shortcuts, that’s something anime studios should use more often as a storytelling device. They’re very familiar with using shortcuts in animation :p, but often the storytelling techniques are so basic and needlessly walk the viewer through the steps it’s sometimes a drag. One of my favorite storytelling shortcuts is in Nurse Witch Komugi. Most anime would take 2-3 episodes to walk the viewer through the setup of a very familiar setup. NWK, takes care of this in about a minute of narrative and moves on with the show.

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  2. It’s funny you mention the Itsuki shortcut, because I actually took that and ran the other way. I love Itsuki’s character and Daisuke Ono’s performance as him, so that might explain why I instantly took a liking to the new character in SNM, and wondered why everyone found him to be creepy. But it makes perfect sense now. You definitely hit that nail right on the head.

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  3. The second OP for Umi Monogatari was great, because everything was purple. I stopped watching this show after the 3rd episode, looks like it’s time to pick it up again.

    And I too love that evil aura, I think that I mentioned it in my first impressions post if of Umi Monogatari (if I even made one, I can’t remember).

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  4. While I haven’t seen much of Umi Monogatari, the change in the OP does look to be an interesting take and I particularly love the idea of changing the OPs or EDs to reflect the plot in the series. Granted, budget is going to be a concern, but in Umi’s case, it was simple and effective.

    Also, I think the shortcuts that you mention require a bit of background information to really get and that falls in the domain of those who have seen the seiyuu’s other works. Not everyone will be able to fully appreciate it, but for people who have seen enough works in the anime medium, it’s a nice bonus.

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  5. @super rats: By mentioning a show that I’ve never heard of, you’re going to make me look it up, thanks 😉

    @RP: I love Itsuki’s character, it’s just that I also find him creepy as well and in need of a punch every now-and-again.

    @glothelegend: Episode 3 was where I left the show for awhile (due to the fansubbers stopping and me forgetting to pick it back up). I then caught like the next 3 episodes together and by that point found myself hooked.

    @zzeroparticle: that’s true about not everyone getting it but Hayate and Haruhi are pretty well-known so for most people, it’ll work

    @Janette: yeah, you made my day 🙂

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  6. hehe That’s a very cute chibi animation 🙂

    If I recall, Ef changed the opening sequences to fit the mood of the episode.

    Hmm… That’s an interesting note about voice actors. It can have a negative effect too because some actors are very closely associated with some prominent characters. For me, Sakamoto sounded too much like Ciel in her role as Alphard 😛

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  7. Glad you liked the chibis. I made that up months ago and was just waiting to find a use for it. I also wanted to see if it was possible to wrap text around a picture.

    Ef has been on my if-I-ever-have-time list of shows for awhile now.

    It does cut both ways which is why a voice actor needs a couple different voices. I remember being surprised when I figured out that Daisuke Ono was also the guy in Air. Didn’t sound like him. Or how Hayate’s voice actor also does Arashi for Natsu no Arashi.

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  8. Hi, I sort of found this page by accident, but I just wanted to drop a comment and say I liked the image comparison with the opening sequence. It was pretty interesting.

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  9. ZX, from Chrome Shelled Regios, is actually very good at the media and music choreography. Their problems were more in the realm of learning how to adapt visual novels and complicated plot lines to the limited resources of an anime series.

    I’m not a musician, but I pay careful attention to beauty and aesthetics on that score when reviewing and watching anime.

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