B1 Intermediate US 155 Folder Collection
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Everything about animation in Japan today is the result of decades and decades of stylistic
Changes in technology, important cultural events, economic shifts, innovative practitioners,
they all contribute to the this flowing timeline.
And styles can change drastically in just a few years, triggered by something as small
of a single series or movie.
There are really fascinating, clear patterns that emerge when you look into a medium in
chronological order.
Watching how these trends repeat and develop is something i'm really fascinated by.
Your favorite character design or animation cut will without a doubt have its roots in
shows from 30/40 years ago.
It's both important and extremely interesting to see how everything links together in one
giant web of influence.
Firstly we need to track that web all the way back to it's roots, with the birth of
animation in Japan.
The first wave of japanese animation came at the start of the 20th century.
During the early decades, a number of anime films were produced.
It's an interesting period to cover because there wasn't a whole lot of animation being
made in Japan, and the stuff that was being made was propaganda material commissioned
by the government.
Momotaro's Sea Eagles is a good example of this era.
Obviously black and white, very slow, simple movements with static painted backgrounds.
Lots of the animations in each scene are loops of the same 4-5 frames.
Movies like this were jam packed with political propaganda, pushing different idealisms from
the Japanese government.
Everything was directly correlated with the world war.
Hakujaden in 1958 is another good example, the film is almost completely flat in it's
dimensions, almost like a puppet show.
It really took a long time before there was enough creative control and resources for
the medium to start developing.
I mean the 30s, 40s and 50s moved at a snail's pace compared to the later decades.
The medium really struggled to find a stylistic identity.
But that definitely changed as we go into the 60s.
The 1960s was very much a stylistic kickstart for anime.
It saw the birth of the anime TV series.
Multiple, long running series started to appear every year, with that came opportunities for
directors and animators to really express their own styles, this started the speedy
stylistic evolution of anime.
Certain titles started to influence each other and distinct trends started to emerge as more
and more shows were made.
The early 60s is a period that would essentially shape the whole medium, what happened here
is very important.
A good starting point to observe this is Tezuka's Astro Boy in 1963, the catalyst for this anime
The characteristics of this show become a stylistic base point for almost everything
that follows.
One of the most important being the show's smart, simple design.
Allowing both rich emotional expression while maintaining a realistic style of animation.
Obviously Japanese production studios weren't yet operating at the same level as other animation
studios like Disney at the time so movement had to be used resourcefully.
Astro Boy's character design was very intelligent.
Movable joints like elbows and knees had almost no detail, leaving any complexity for static
aspects like his belt or his hair, this allowed Astro Boy to look interesting but also made
him very easy to animate.
Emotions were expressed through his hands and face, which leads onto another important
element used in the series, the eyes.
Astro Boy's eyes are very recognisable, because it's a style that's still very
popular today.
They're big and bold, allowing animators to express a lot of information using very
simple visuals.
Backgrounds were even more limited, they were expressive but lacked detail and never really
moved, sometimes block colours or gradients filled up the whole screen.
We see these characteristics continued and developed upon into the 60s with shows like
Tetsujin and Prince Planet.
As the decade progressed, a number of stylistic changes started to take place, mainly influenced
by the revolutionary introduction of colour.
Kimba The White Lion in 1965 is a great place to look, you can see here the stark improvements
from Astro Boy and Tetsujin, the core style is still very simple but the backgrounds for
example are far more detailed and sometimes even dynamic.
Colour allowed them to be so much more expressive with their backgrounds, using large scale
painted landscapes for settings.
Character design detail also improved, not only in details of elements like clothing
but allowing that detail to move with more fluidity.
Action saw a massive quality increase.
From the quick, scarcely animated scenes in Astro Boy and Tetsujin, Kimba had a bigger
focus on movement and scale.
This allowed them to add a lot more emotion and weight into their action scenes.
These slight improvements continued throughout the 60s, highlighted even more so in 1967's
Speed Racer.
By this time we're seeing animation that we're more used to seeing today.
1969's Dororo is very noteworthy.
Where the other series of the 60s were very much for a younger audience, Dororo targeted
a more mature audience with more dark, violent imagery.
Lot's of death and fighting that was absent from a lot of it's predecessors.
Dororo also took a heavy influence from cinema, classic samurai films from the 50s and 60s
being a clear influence.
This is possibly one of the most important aspects, using cinematic techniques to push
the medium in it's own stylistic direction.
Lighting, composition and more complex animation all played a part in molding anime of the
late 60s.
And this regularity in TV anime caused an increase in development, more progress was
made in this decade than was made during the first 30/40 years of the medium.
Production teams began to grow and larger creative risks were taken.
Experimental productions are usually the catalyst for innovation.
In 1971, Osamu Dezaki proved this with Ashita no Joe, possibly one of the most progressive
works in the medium so far.
It took the TV anime format that had been established and injected it with a cinematic
This could be a response to how prosperous and experimental the movie industry had become
in the 60s.
One of the most obvious changes is the huge leap in character detail and animation.
Compared to even 5 years ago, Dezaki's characters are far more detailed and utilize movement
more effectively.
This is mirrored in Lupin III the same year, at the time, these were some of the most detailed
characters the medium had seen, with some of the most expressive animation.
You'll notice also that these shows were aimed at a much older audience.
Were the likes of Astro Boy and Kimba were aimed as a younger teenage audience, Joe and
Lupin had a much older demographic.
What starts to develop in a really interesting way in the 70s in the animation of human elements,
we start to see it a lot in Joe and Lupin with their more realistic character designs
and detailed facial expressions but it's in the more subtle shows that this really
If you look at Heidi, Girl of the Alps from 1974, there's a huge focus on the animation
of things like facial expressions and body movement.
Unlike almost everything that i've mentioned so far, Heidi didn't have action to portray
strong emotions, so animation had to be focused in the small details.
There are a number of shows that echo this development like Nobody's Boy Remi and later,
Akagi No Anne, the amount of detail put into a single facial expression in this show was
spectacular, unlike really anything the medium had seen.
Animation was no longer a scarcely used tool for key scenes, it was now being utilised
in the intricacies of a show.
Background art is also something that grows very heavily in these shows, these backgrounds
were created with such skill but also a level of consistency, they blend with the animation
of the show and start to form incredibly immersive worlds.
Another important development that strived in different areas was the boom of Mech anime
in the 70s, or Giant Robot anime.
This is a really important development because it dominates the industry for about 20 years.
Some of the early titles such as Casshan or Grendizer in 1974 show the beginnings of this
Obviously they all develop from a lot of the sci-fi shows in the 60s but it's here where
they start to really create a specific identity.
Mechanical animation was something really unique to Anime, shows like Yamato and Tekkman
are prime examples of how japanese animators were making this their speciality.
It would become something that Japan would be known for worldwide.
Loads of complex, detailed mechanical animations started to appear.
So much so that the production of Space Battleship Yamato included a dedicated team for Mechanical
design: Studio Nue.
Leading us into one of the single most important titles for the medium, Mobile Suit Gundam
in 1979.
A show that would become the stylistic benchmark for the next decade of anime.
The legendary Kunio Okawara was behind the mechanical design for this series, possible
making the single most important set of designs the medium had seen so far.
It wasn't just the complexity of the mech designs that are important here, it's the
level to which they're animated, it's simple outstanding, and crazy to think that
just 15 years before Astro Boy was just beginning to incorporate what is now relatively basic
And this development in mechanical animation continues into the 80s where it becomes one
of the most important areas of the medium.
There's a huge wave of mech anime that come during the early 80s, and instantly you can
see how fast the medium is developing stylistically.
I want to start with Macross in 1982.
What's important to see here is the development of specific areas.
Dynamic, animated backgrounds for instance, this is something that really starts to develop
in the 80s.
Before, TV anime would have simple images or layered images, very rarely would the backgrounds
or environments move.
In Macross the line between foreground and background start to blur, and this becomes
one of the most important technical developments.
Also, how characters and objects are drawn change, Macross has that sketchy style animation
that you seen in Mobile Suit Gundam, this time, far more detailed and dynamic.
This is a big change from the bolder, more solid line work of previous TV anime, and
it opens up opportunities for more unique movement.
This causes really important details like hair movement and clothing detail, aspects
that were sorely missed until this point.
Macross really set the standard for TV mech anime, and you can see how that reflects into
other shows like Armoured Trooper Votoms, one of my personal favourites and Mospeada.
But it would be Gundam that once again pushed this area of the medium.
A few years later in 1985, Zeta Gundam was released, you can see instantly the improvements
in shading and line detail.
Also, the mechanical design has improved so much.
A year later in 1986 you can see this happening again in Gundam ZZ.
I think one of the most notable developments is the consistency of everything.
There's no longer a big quality gap between backgrounds and characters or one scene and
another, everything is as detailed as it needs to be and it all fits together really nicely.
As I was saying earlier, experimentation is usually the catalyst for development.
You can see how the experimental shows of the 80s mirror the developments of the decade.
Starting with Urusei Yatsura in 1981.
This is, i think, one of the very first shows that really start to resemble modern anime.
This, and a handful of other shows really became the standard for non-mech anime in
the 80s, and then kind of all anime after this decade.
The show's colourful aesthetic and exaggerated visual presence becomes a staple of japanese
Aspects like the character's hair and the bright backgrounds are all extremely important
Another big change in the 80s was the introduction of the OVA (productions that went straight
to video), allowing creators to bring to life projects that didn't quite fit the TV or Movie
This started with Dallos in 1983, and you can see instantly how it differs from almost
everything else, it has it's own unique, maybe darker atmosphere and imagery.
And again with Angel's Egg in 1984, a really unique, visual style that really pushed the
kind of art-house aesthetic into the medium.
You can see influences from very specific areas like eastern european cinema here that
definitely hadn't had the chance to appear before.
These OVAs are definitely steps into the foundation of future styles.
This is around the time Studio Gainax were founded, one of the first modern anime studios.
They kind of revolutionised how a studio worked and pushed the boundaries of what a smaller
team could achieve, subsequently pushing their own style and influence, which you'll see
this in later years.
These OVAs also played a big part in the development of the cyberpunk look later in the decade,
before Akira came along, titles like Megazone 23 and Bubblegum Crisis kickstarted that whole
cyberpunk sub genre, elements that anime is renowned for like large futuristic cities
and neon imagery.
But before that we have a wave of movies that would really define a whole generation of
films to come, this is of course the birth of Studio Ghibli, a coming together of some
of the industry's most important individuals.
Their first project, actually coming before the studio officially founded was Nausicaa
of the wind in 1984 and then their first official film as a studio in 1986, Laputa, Castle in
the Sky.
These productions were huge steps in many areas, firstly Animation.
Aspects like character animation and crowd animation were outstanding.
The detail and movement were completely unique to the studio at the time.
They managed to create a sense of realism with their ultra-smooth movement, consistently
layered throughout their films.
Matched only by their spectacular background art, I mean Nausicaa had 17 credited background
artists, production teams with this scale and talent were really rare at this point
in the industry, these films were such a leap.
This kickstarted a huge wave of anime films from the mid to late 80s, these kind of massive
production teams became more common and subsequently some really amazing work was done.
One of the more unique additions is Wing of Honneamise in 1987.
The film had, again, incredible background art and character animation accompanied by
very mature themes.
This was happening alongside the growth of Cyberpunk anime and it becomes a really influential
title, unfortunately it was kind of dwarfed by Akira the next again year.
Akira is possibly the single most influential anime film… ever.
It was at the time, and still is, one of the most technically impressive pieces of Japanese
It was obsessive in it's attention to detail, every scene containing an unbelievable level
of dynamic animation.
It's very much a turning point for sci-fi anime aswell.
Where a lot of the genre's previous additions had been brighter and aimed at a younger demographic,
Akira marker a change in a more mature focused sci-fi audience.
And that more mature audience is something that continues into the 90s, along with a
number of other developments.
The 90s becomes a really interesting time period, you have all the amazing development
of the 80s with a bit more freedom in the form of OVAs and niche markets.
The early 90s in particular was an interesting time for this.
Titles like Macross Plus offered a very quirky take on the cyberpunk genre and on the Macross
This title is very much a preview of what's to come.
I love the interesting blend of old and new in Macross Plus, the character designs are
more in the style of the mid 80s but the general aesthetic is very 90s.
Stuff like this happens a lot in OVA titles.
There was a lot of improvements in technology which I think completely changed the direction
films and series were taking.
Ghost in the Shell in 1995 is a great place to look into.
Instantly you can see that Ghost in the Shell is taking less from the mech era of the 80s
and more from those later films, calculated body proportions, very neat line-work, smooth
animation, realism was the focus of the film.
The photorealistic backgrounds and more traditional clothing choices, this is all part of the
growth towards a more realistic style.
That realistic style of animation and design is definitely a development that continues
throughout the decade.
You can see it in shows like Evangelion and Gundam Wing the same year.
I think this more realistic design is a reflection of an older target audience.
Evangelion is a great example of where TV anime is at this point, there's some really,
really talented animators working in the industry and it shows.
But this isn't the only kind of style that is developing.
Lots of shows are branching out into different styles.
Escaflowne in 1996 is one of my personal favourites from the decade, it has a unique fantasy aesthetic,
I think deriving more from video games than anything else, but it's fantastic.
It mixes fantasy and sci-fi in the same way Miyazaki does with a lot of his studio Ghibli.
And the quality of animation for a tv production is just mind-blowing.
And again another fantasy series, Berserk, it didn't quite get the same level of production
value as Escaflowne but the designs are just awesome.
I like how experimental and bold choices with lighting and colour are getting.
And that kind of sketchy line work that we seen back in the 80s is coming back.
And towards the end of the 90s we have a collection of just really solid shows, this is a really
special period I think, especially for audiences in the West.
Titles like Cowboy Bebop and trigun were a really nice blend of everything that happened
over the last 20 years in the industry.
These were a mix of so many different styles and genres, becoming a kind of the turning
point at the very end of the 90s and the start of the 2000s were everything changes stylistically.
Around the same time we start seeing a lot more experimental shows popping up too, this
is possibly the most influential development going into the 2000s.
I want to start with Utena in 1997.
For me, I think Utena's use of colour and exaggerated imagery are both links to the
past with similarities to the works of Dezaki for example and also previews of styles to
And also, Serial Experiments Lain.
We really hadn't had many TV productions that were this visually experimental until
You can see Lain takes the standard aesthetic and tweaks it to make it the deeply psychological
experience it is.
The simpler character designs and subtle background art become a real trend in later years too.
Similarly with Boogiepop phantom in the year 2000.
These signify a very important change in how the industry was working or more specifically
how TV anime were working.
All the variables that previously mattered in TV anime production went out the window,
and this change in production ended up making one of the most experimental and visually
interesting shows of the last decade.
the uses of lighting in these series were amazing and the the muted colour palettes,
it was all it was all so unique, we really hadn't seen anything like it.
This period of experimentation is incredibly important going into the 2000s.
A lot of the shows that are made over the next 10 15 years come from this period of
Whole studios are based around the idea of creating experimental and unique looking shows.
It's something that has a real market and stylistically it just explodes the amount
of evolution.
Going into the next decade I think a lot of things drastically change.
for instance, the use of digital animation is more common that is ever been, and that
changes a lot of things in terms of how many people need to work on a project, how a project
can get funded, the resources needed to make a project, it's all very different.
One show that I think encapsulates this is FLCL.
A kind of transitionary anime into the new decade.
The show has this really bright exaggerated aesthetic while maintaining a really high
level of polish.
The animation and shot compositions are amazing, but aspects of the visual style like the background
art are definitely a step away from that idea of realism and revert back to a more playful
style, and it has a level of surrealism to its visuals and it's story telling, this is
all very much a theme of the time.
Gurren Lagann is a later example of this, and an interesting one because it has this
playful aesthetic but such a high level of polish, you can see the wild bu amazing line-work
in almost every detail of the animation, and this is kind of due to the developments in
digital animation.
Digital animation really Becomes of the most important and most influential aspect of the
Shows kind of revolve their world's around this idea, and it leads to a wave of very
very exploratory but also high quality anime.
But of course, that more realistic style that was saw in the 90s doesn't disappear, in fact
it keeps developing and produces some of the decade's most visually impressive works.
Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex was a great alternative adaptation to the previous
decade's film, Ergo Proxy in 2006 was a fantastic development of that dark, muted
style from Serial Experiments Lain's era.
And the experimental phases of the 80s and the 90s don't just stop there.
Going into the 2000s there are just as much if not more experimentation than ever.
Studio shaft is one of my favourite examples of this.
They are behind some of the most visually impressive titles of the decade, shows like
Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and Monogatari.
They have all of the characteristics of those previous phases with an added layer of quality
and finesse.
I think some of the shows that Shaft make over the years are outstanding in their animation
quality, their smoothness and adjust general production value without them losing the experimental
Also you have a collection of practitioners during this period, creating some extremely
experimental shows, masaaki yuasa, kenji Nakamura, and Rei Matsumoto are a few great examples.
These practitioners all use animation and resources in a way that has never been done
masaaki yuasa for example creates these huge worlds with extravagant animation using just
very small teams and simpler tools.
And this progression leads us up to the current set of styles really.
The landscape at the moment is one dominated with digital animation, causing almost every
show to have a very unique style.
You can take any 5 anime films from each year and chances are they'll all have their own
visual identity, but they'll all be firmly rooted somewhere in the past.
Even the most exciting new design will have it's influence in the works of Dezaki or
And that is fascinating.
We're in a new, internet driven era and the landscape of animation is changing so
much, I think the fact like creators like Masaaki Yuasa are given opportunities is testament
to how creative the medium has become, and I can only really hope for that to continue….
And I hope you have enjoyed this video, and the last few videos i've made about visual
developments in anime.
I've spent months researching and making these videos so if you enjoyed them please
do check out some of my other videos and click subscribe.
I have similar videos looking into specific areas of development that you can check out
on the screen, but thanks for now.
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The Stylistic Evolution of Anime

155 Folder Collection
二百五 published on September 11, 2019
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