I had a friend over from Norway, which was a perfect excuse to rewatch some anime series that haven’t left their BluRay boxes in a while. I love introducing people to shows I think they might enjoy and this becomes doubly interesting when those people aren’t actually fans of anime. Finding that one show that just fits them like a glove and getting them interested in the medium feels amazing.
However, sharing anime is also something I have been hesitant about because I always get this feeling that shows aren’t as pretty-looking as I remember them to be. This is also why my review of Re:Zero was mostly focused on its storytelling themes, as a rewatch of it had me constantly getting distracted by ugly visuals that escaped my notice the first time around.
Lagunica, the fantasy setting for Re:Zero, is amazingly realized. Its capital and various other locales are enormous and make for great backdrops to its story. The characters too are beautifully designed and very expressive, which allows the series to really stand out during its emotional peaks and horror moments. While it didn’t make a return in my re-review, I still feel chills run down my spine during some of the death scenes throughout the show. These are the featured items, what the director and studio wanted you to pay attention to and admire, but also what they put in the forefront to hopefully distract you from the corners where cuts were made.
Re:Zero loves to fill up its backgrounds and bustling city scenes with 3D, CGI characters. While it often zooms out to obscure these as much as possible, these background lads eventually work their way into some awkwardly close-up scenes where it suddenly looks like you’re watching RWBY. This same treatment was given to many of the show’s mounts, leading to action scenes that utilize awkward animation loops and creatures that clash with the art-style of the backgrounds they move across.
Even worse were the show’s action scenes, which immediately set the bar high in terms of power and low in terms of effort. The first real battle of the show is Elsa versus Reinhart, which sees the latter slowly moving around to parry the attacks of his opponent, who is so fast that she is but a blur bouncing around the room, launching unseen attacks. The moment he gets room to fight seriously, his one sword strike causes a magical explosion that wrecks the building. It’s exciting because of the story context, but as a battle, it’s lackluster. There is no engaging choreography that would be stressful to animate, instead preferring to make both fighters so fast and powerful that the fight can just look flashy instead.
While some fight scenes did look better, this lack of choreography comes back in full force during the whale battle. Here, an old man is launched into the air like a rocket to land on the airborne whale, where he stabs his sword into the creature and begins to run along its body, causing a river of blood to spill out. The whale fight is one of the most hype moments in Re:Zero and man does that goofy animation of Wilhelm take me out of it.
Fun anecdote: I was watching One Punch Man season 2 before finishing up Re:Zero and commented at length about how many times these “cool” fighting moves play out over empty backgrounds that just throw some colors and motion on there. It’s like Earthbound with zero of the artistic vision behind it. Then I went back to Re:Zero and get to the final battle with Betelgeuse and there it is again. Fun to see how OPM2 got raked over the coals for this stuff, but Re:Zero pulls the same shit for its finale and we’re just gonna let that slide.
Just like with the tropes of this medium that anime fans just instinctively understand, so too have we accepted that these blemishes are a part of anime. We know background characters can look like crap. We know that cool scenes are going to be rushed to meet TV deadlines. Yet, if this medium is to keep growing, we need to unlearn that. It’s ridiculous that some action scenes in the hit anime of 2016 use the same animation tricks as the weekly fight scene in a show like Tokyo Mew Mew from 2002. It’s ridiculous that butt-ugly background characters are rushed-out to fill up key scenes in time for the show to air on TV, and then those same abominations are still around when fans are asked to pony up money for expensive BluRay releases.
A person outside of our niché audience has different standards for what animation looks like. With some luck, they are into the series enough that they overlook these shortcomings, but I don’t want to make that gamble every time I invite a friend or family member over to watch a show with me. I hope that the success of Re:Zero‘s first season will allow its creators to make improvements for the upcoming season 2. However, the cynical side of me says that the success of the first season in spite of its shortcomings may also inspire further cuts or at least give the creators confidence in maintaining the same, stagnating level of quality.