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AV MOD MATERIAL: My Eyes Are Bleeding! #1 - A Primer in Sakuga

A closer look at animation and why it's important.

Hello all! This is sickVisionz here kicking off a new article series that's literally about animation and a word called sakuga that you guys and gals may have heard before. Before jumping into the deep end about some of the animators behind amazing anime scenes and video clips highlighting awesome examples of sakuga animation, I thought I'd give you all a little insight into a few areas of anime production that specifically relate to animation as well as an explanation on what sakuga actually is and why it matters.

The Limits of TV Anime

As cool as they are, stitched caps are possible due to limited animation.
As cool as they are, stitched caps are possible due to limited animation.

Unlike anime movies, television anime is produced on small budgets with even smaller production times, sometimes to a degree where episodes are completed mere hours before broadcast. This reality causes many television series to use what you might call limited animation. A classic example that any anime fan is familiar with is the anime talking head. The eyes don't move or blink, the hair is perfectly still, and the only motion in the scene are the lips moving, often not syllabically synced to the dialog. Anime is filled with such cost saving measures and when done right, they don't negatively impact the quality of storytelling. However, there are also situations where the stars align themselves and limited animation takes a back seat.

In anime, key animators are often put in charge of entire scenes or camera shots ie everything that takes places until the camera cuts to something else. When they are freed from the restraints of limited animation and allowed to go hog wild on a scene, time and budget be damned, something glorious happens. That something is sakuga.

What is Sakuga?

Sakuga, as it's used by fans of animation, refers scenes and shots in anime that are expressive, fluid, or dynamic in animation.

Limited Animation vs Sakuga Animation
Limited Animation
Sakuga Animation

Comparing the limited animation example to the sakuga one (specifically 0:27-0:58) it's immediately apparent that there's a little something extra going on with the animation in most shots (although there are examples of limited animation within). Hair and clothing are flapping like wild in the wind, every character on screen is constantly in motion, and the camera is doing a lot of interesting pans, zooms, and movements all in service of delivering a dynamic scene to ensure that the same level of excitement the writer envisioned the scene having in their mind is present in the final product. This is sakuga.

Why Does Sakuga Matter?

This video, the final part of a nine piece series that I'd recommend any anime fan watch, really goes into detail about why animation matters in anime. Animation is a key part of the storytelling process. A picture is worth a thousand words and I'd argue that a well composed one is worth millions. Voice actors provide the vocal delivery for a character but animation provides the visual and physical acting performance for all characters. It is what sets the scene and controls everything that viewer will see and visually experience. It is what decides whether the emotional climax of a story will be told by a protagonist fighting to hold back their tears, slightly trembling, and clutching their chest or fidgeting out of nervousness... or whether it's going to be a static image with nothing more than mouth flaps. It determines whether that epic last battle that the entire series has been building to ends in a bang of carefully orchestrated destruction or goes out on a whimper of shaky still images and animations loops masked by blurring and speed lines.

Well, that's it's for this week. Next week kicks off the actual article proper with examples of work from the minds behind some of my favorite scenes and series.

William Taylor loves him some bad ass fight scenes and can't wait to highlight some of what's out there in the world of sakuga. Unravel the mystery via Twitter @mrsickvisionz.

Kino88on Oct. 25, 2012 at 6:52 p.m.

Sakuga!!!

AgentJon Oct. 27, 2012 at 2:16 p.m.

Wow, excellent article. I've always been curious about those changeovers between movie quality animation and flapping mouths. This explains why I dislike the Bleach anime perfectly.

sickVisionz moderator on Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.

@AgentJ: Bleach probably has the worst ratio of well animated to poorly animated episodes of any popular shonen series post 2000. There's some obscenely well done scenes though. Most them take place during filler arcs but still, when Bleach is good it is good. Article #3 is going to focus on an animator who has worked on Bleach and at some point I'm going to dedicate an article to each of the big 3.

Despite animation flaws though, I can give Bleach credit for just um... doing little stylistic things in a cool way, like how they'll slice the screen up sometimes or creatively change the color palette. It doesn't completely forgive how bad the animation is at times, but it does do wonders for what they're working with, especially when they combine it with decent animation.

AURON570on Oct. 30, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.

are you trying to get us to watch Naruto *folds arms*. Haha just kidding. Great article.

That last video was great. Arg I feel like I did myself a disservice watching Bakemonogatari on low quality stream. But it's available on CR now so it's all good! >.>

Now I want to re-watch the Digimon Movie. Also I still really want to watch Summer Wars and Girl Who Leapt Through Time!

takashichea moderator on Nov. 25, 2012 at 3:40 a.m.

I almost forgot to comment after reading and tweeting these articles a few days ago. Thanks to this article, I learn about Sakuga and to give credit to the animators who working behind the scenes.

Dig Deeper into Sakuga

Literally meaning "work drawing", Sakuga as used in anime fandom refers to scenes in anime that feature expressive, fluid, and vivid animation.

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