The most interesting thing about studio SANZIGEN is that they’ve figured out how to make a fully 3D-Animated TV series look good without requiring an exceptional amount of graphical fidelity. The key, it turns out, is great character designs and expressive animation.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a rapid increase of anime TV shows and movies presented in full CG, and the reception of these among anime fans has been pretty shaky. Personally, I’ve found shows like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin from Polygon Pictures to be difficult to watch because of their stilted and awkward characer movement, generic, pudding-faced designs, and the use of regular film framerates as opposed to the smoother frames seen in video games and high-budget 3D animated films.
3D animation has gotten a bad rap for being perceived as a cost-cutting measure from animation studios–even though for the most part, its real purpose is to allow animators to do things that they might not be able to do with 2D animation (I recommend this recent Anime News Network article I’ll be linking in the description for more on the subject of why 3D anime is used in the ways that it is)–but this can be a double-edged sword, as shows like the CG Berserk adaptation abuse the free camera movement of 3D space to jarring effect.
But with shows like ID-0 and Bubuki Buranki, Studio Sanzigen has largely averted these issues by putting effort into making their CG animation look and feel more like regular 2D animation. Rather than focusing on what separates 2D and 3D, they focus on the elements which make anime so visually striking in the first place–eye-catching shot compositions, expressive faces and animations, and uniquely memorable character designs.
Within three seconds of seeing the main character girl’s face in ID-0, I could immediately tell that the designs had been made by Range Murata–a cult favorite illustrator who worked on shows like Last Exile and Blue Submarine No. 6 in the past–themselves early 3D-integrated animations–and I was surprised over and over again at how the character’s expressions leapt off of the screen. Likewise, some of the robot characters were so expressive in their movement that I could almost forget that they weren’t human. Bubuki Buranki, meanwhile, dazzles with badass action scenes, showcasing a sense of visual flow reminiscent of what building-mates Studio Trigger are known for. Deftly switching between 2D and 3D movement styles, the series showcased some of the most unique and engaging action scenes on TV last year–even if the plot wasn’t interesting enough to carry me through the entire show.
What I hope Studio Sanzigen can help to make clear is that 3D animation is not inherently a problem, even if it’s in lower-fidelity TV anime. Great visual design and directing is always going to stand out the most, and if more 3D shows can learn that lesson, then the slow encroachment of CG into TV anime might not go over so badly. I think as more veteran anime staff move into working on CG shows (such as director Taniguchi Goro, who handled ID-0, having previously directed shows like Code Geass, s-CRY-ed, and Plenetes), we’ll see a greater blend of anime’s strengths into the medium of CG animation.
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