This week, one of my best friends asked me if I wanted to watch a somewhat older anime from 2014, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso or Your Lie in April. I remember hearing great things about it back when it aired but it was one of those shows that I just accidentally forgot about as time went by. While I am enjoying the show so far and I don’t see that changing any time soon, the first immediate thing that came to mind when watching this show was it’s unique art style. This isn’t to say that it was too overtly different, but that there were clear design decisions that made the characters of this show stand out much more in comparison As a result, this week I wanted to talk about character designs and art that are a breath of fresh air, so to speak.
First thing’s first, allow me to preface this post by clarifying that the typical look of anime is not bad. I’ve done an editorial in the past about similar looking art and character designs but just to make sure my stance on the matter is clear, different art is just interesting in a very curious way, not necessarily better than typical art. Typical art is expected and that’s perfectly fine. In some cases, shows can take that typical look and amplify it to the point where it becomes special — good examples of that being Kyoto Animation’s biggest shows that use their typical appearance, like Hibike! Euphonium or even the currently airing Violet Evergarden.
What makes atypical art interesting is how it stands out in a very risky way. With shows that choose to look different, it’s very easy to look unappealing. At the same time, atypical art and designs can also become synonymous with the show itself and sometimes even extreme subtleties in an attempt to mimic the original artist’s style (or to actually mimic the original artist’s style, in cases where the original artist is an active part of the production staff) can be a light level of endearing to the people familiar with the original works.
A good example of the latter of those two are anime that are adaptation of Kantoku’s works. In this case, I want to use the recent Imouto sae Ireba ii as an example. Kantoku has a very specific art style and while his original drawings aren’t necessarily animation ready or easy to replicate, but when the production staff tries to make the designs in the show match his art it goes a long way. Not everyone who watches Imouto sae Ireba ii is going to be familiar with his art style but the mimic isn’t a drawback for those people.
At the same time, however, people who are familiar with Kantoku’s art style are going to appreciate the mimic more than anyone else. If someone can look at a character’s eyes and see a bit of the original in the animated work, without a doubt they’re going to take it as a welcome surprise. As a fan of Kantoku’s, I didn’t even notice that Imouto sae Ireba ii had his art style in the character design until I paid closer attention in a scene with little going on, and that moment of realisation is a great feeling to have.
But that’s not quite what I mean when I say atypical art and character design. When anyone looks at the Imouto sae Ireba ii anime, they without a doubt see a typical style. What I mean when I say atypical are shows like 3-gatsu no Lion, Nichijou, and the previously mentioned Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso — the shows that when you look at them you instantly think “That isn’t normal.” First, allow me to explain why exactly they’re a breath of fresh air.
When I first saw this scene with Kaori in it, the atypical art style caught my attention right away. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it at first, but as the show continued and it became clear that this was going to be the norm, I not only eased into it but began to like it a lot and even consider that this show would be considerably worse with a typical art style. This isn’t to say that Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso relies on it’s art style too much and without it, it’s bad, but rather to say that the show’s art is a crucial part of it’s identity.
If the show had a normal appearance and looked like it could have been from any production staff judging from still frames alone, I feel like it would have succeeded just fine just as it did back in 2014. But instead, with the art style it has, in a way it declares that it is different from other romantic dramas without saying a word. All it needed to do was show it’s audience within the first minute, the way it’s going to look for the next 22 episodes. When I mentioned this to my friend in some off episode I couldn’t quite put words to why this was so interesting. After all, it was just anime and at the end of the day it’s not like I was even slightly opposed to the typical look of anime.
But now that I’ve had time to think about it, I feel like the reason I have a particular liking to the art style is because of the declaration it makes. Which is to say, I like that it’s different because it’s different. I don’t dislike typical art, but when something is different in an interesting way that works, it stands out, and I like things that stand out. I call it a breath of fresh air because the contrast it has against the typical look of anime is relieving almost. Even just comparing that frame of Kaori to the frame from Imouto sae Ireba ii has some sort of refreshing feeling to it.
The best part is that these unique atypical art styles aren’t done for the sake of doing them. Yes, duh, obviously it’s that way, but the art style works almost as a way to amplify dramatic moments from the production. When a dark emotional shadow is cast over the current scene, the art style magnifies it several fold in a way that, as someone who has less than zero experience with art, is hard to explain. When Kousei is trying to play piano for the first time in ages and something is clearly wrong in Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, literally any of the scenes in 3-gatsu no Lion with a dark palette, or even any moment of hyper-absurd comedy in Nichijou; the specific art decision made, makes those scenes stand out in memory in comparison to the rest where the art style just works rather than acts.
Moments like this are when I wish I knew more about art theory because there has to be some reason that these specific decisions and designs work the way they do. Of course, there’s also something to be said about the hand-drawn look of Studio Ghibli’s productions or the aesthetic appeal of older anime in comparison to today’s newer appearance. Putting Ghibli aside, since I’m positive they make a conscious effort to look different for the reason I just mentioned, older anime’s aesthetic appearance is also interesting to me. Naturally, anime was just eventually going to evolve to what it is today, but interestingly the number of fans of this older style in comparison to today’s typical look has me more curious about why no studios have tried to capitalise on this niche appeal (aside from the fact that it’s just niche).
On the other hand, however, there are instances when that intentionally different style is… less than great.
Now, if you’re anything like the 4 people on MyAnimeList that have favourited this artist, you likely see nothing wrong with these frames. There’s probably even a good chance that even if you don’t particularly love these frames, you don’t see anything particularly wrong. However, if you’re like me, you see this and see something ever so slightly off. These frames were from the shows Lance N’ Masques and Clockwork Planet respectively and they are without a doubt an attempt to mimic the artist Shino’s art style, as he’s responsible for the original works of both of those series.
I’m not one to shame artists for their styles, as I can’t draw to save my life, but I feel like it’s fair to say that I’m quite opposed to Shino’s art. The covers for all of the manga he’s published looks good enough, and when in an environment where they have 100% control over how their art looks, I might even see why less than a handful of people love their work. This, in my honest opinion, is an example of when an explicitly different appearance isn’t necessarily good for the show in question.
A good amount of my time watching Clockwork Planet was spent being distracted by how odd it looked. Unlike any of the shows previously mentioned, there was no point where I got over it and happily welcomed the show’s appearance. Rather, it remained this awkward focal point that instead of declaring it was different in a good way, it declared it’s difference in a very negative way — especially after expecting something as undeniably beautiful as No Game No Life when hearing that the guy who wrote that also wrote this show’s original work.
This could very well be the fault of production teams responsible for adapting Shino’s art, and the things they’re responsible for could be genuinely good works. Unfortunately, this was the impression I got and the one I stuck with. Why I say looking explicitly atypical is a risky decision to make, this is an example of it blowing up in the production’s face. All it takes is one bad or even just odd thing to add a bit of attentiveness to the negatives of a production. Fortunately, however, we have a good number of shows that have carefully applied this decision and as a result have made themselves very memorable in a very good light.
Thank you very much for reading this week’s editorial! I hope you enjoyed it; if you have any thoughts to add to this topic or comments you’d like to voice, feel free to leave them in the comments blow — as always, I read each and every one. Additionally, if you’d like to see what I’m up to on the other six days of the week, why not follow me on Twitter? I used a lot more images than usual on this post, but hopefully that helps my opinions make at least a little bit more sense. See you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by ムアン.