All too often, I see the phrase ‘animation’ getting tossed around without a proper knowledge of what the word entails. Although, for the record, I also see people talk about wanting to watch anime with ‘good graphics’ so at least most of us aren’t that bad, but nonetheless, I think a lot of people confuse a series having ‘good art’ with having ‘good animation.’ There are a lot of ways I could explain this with examples unrelated to one-another, but I think the more effective way to illustrate this is with Haibane Renmei and Texhnolyze – two shows with art designed by my favorite artist, Yoshitoshi ABe.
Yoshitoshi ABe is very popular, which comes as no surprise because he has a very striking and instantly recognizable visual style that pervades in all of his series (of which include Serial Experiments Lain, NieA_7, and the two we will be discussing.) Haibane and Texhnolyze are, from what I know, the series that he had the most involvement with the creation of the anime versions of, so both of them definitely have his touch on them.
To get it out of the way now, Haibane Renmei has very weak animation, whereas Texhnolyze has very strong animation. Haibane Renmei aired at the end of 2002, which is around the time that Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, one of the best-looking anime ever produced, was airing. Texhnolyze aired about a year later, alongside the great-looking Last Exile and the terrible-looking Air Master – point being, the time difference between the two series has no bearing on why one looks better than the other.
Haibane’s lackluster animation can be easily attributed to it’s production by Radix studio, who haven’t really done any other productions on their own. To understand what makes Haibane’s animation bad, I point to a few of the things I noticed while watching the third episode. For instance, a moment where Kuu is running down a slope to meet up with Rakka, and the way she is running does not match the angle of the ground below her. The perspective is messed up so that she seems to grow taller rather than get closer as she runs, so the whole moment is confusingly ugly.
Another such moment comes when Hikari is walking across a rickety bridge to get to the place where the Haibane council is stationed, and to show that the bridge is safe to Rakka, she stands on one leg and spins around. However, the way that she does this looks as if her foot is not touching the bridge at all, but just levitating. In the next shot, the animators use a clever trick of showing Rakka pull Hikari across the bridge while it bounces along as an under-shot, meaning that they didn’t have to try and depict the characters’ legs as they would land on the wobbling bridge, which I imagine would be very hard to animate convincingly.
Probably the moment that got to me the most, though, was when Rakka enters Reki’s room at the start of the episode, and there is a camera zoom. I consider camera zooms to be the cardinal sin of animation. If you didn’t know, animation is done by taking pictures of still images and putting them in sequence. A camera zoom is when they take one still image and zoom in on the camera used to take a picture of the image to create an illusion of movement where there is none. This trick, however, does not work. It is the ugliest and most amateur trick that an animation team can use, and I about facepalmed when I saw it at use here.
In the series overall, though, the crappy animation isn’t as big of a hindrance as it would be to most anime. There are occasional moments of really brilliant animation (such as the emergence of Rakka’s wings in the first episode) which are no doubt do to the fact that studios like Production I.G. also had hands in the production of the series. And even when the animation is bad, it’s hard not to like looking at Haibane because, as mentioned, the art is so great. The character designs are a joy, the world is a delight. The background art is usually quite lively and interesting, and the world has a life to it that even some spectacularly animated shows don’t grasp.
However, that’s not to say that I can’t fault the series for the animation. Precisely because I have Texhnolyze. Admittedly, it might not be the hardest thing to never screw up the animation in Texhnolyze because it isn’t the most active series – not a whole lot regularly happens, but that said, everything there is looks great. Moments of action are astounding, and moments without action are still highly detailed. This is, after all, studio Madhouse, one of the most respected anime production studios there is. Not to say that everything they do is gold, but they do know what they are doing, and this is a series wherein they put a real effort into it.
Even the background art in Texhnolyze is, I daresay, much better than that of Haibane, as it honestly looks like Yoshitoshi ABe was drawing every still himself, and you’ll never have a moment of faulty perception or characters going off-model in the animation. It’s a damn sexy series, and because of that, I have to sort of look at Haibane and feel that, even if I love it, more could have been done to make it look nice.