Some Trifling Observations About Trifling Details in Our Trifling Anime

Here’s a challenge: watch a random episode of a random TV anime series. Notice how they animate mouths. Then look at how may times the characters blink in a given scene. Chances are you are not going to be impressed.

For some unfathomable reason, most anime do not even try to sync the voice of the character to the movement of his/her lips. Usually, the mouths of the characters just open and close with no real adaption to whatever they are saying. No studio is safe from this – from Xebec to DEEN to Shaft to KyoAni to ufotable to Madhouse. Anime just doesn’t like to animate mouths, and it has been bothering me for a long time.

A good example of a still image used in anime.

I want to believe that the studios are trying to save money, but no. They manage to make a lot of fantastic visual effects and other flashy stuff that makes anime what it is, so I would figure that they would at least put some effort on animating oral cavities. I mean, I think they already cut enough costs when they present us with unrelenting torrents of static images, so why not at least make talking heads more interesting? Seriously, are the animators just lazy, underpaid or just don’t care?

A perfect example of a background pan.

Then we have the issue of blinking. Blinking in anime is a rare occurrence. The studios I know that actually put effort in animating blinking outside turning of heads are KyoAni and PA Works (if I forgot to mention others, please say so). Again, I’m at a loss at why this is happening. I don’t really know much about costs, but I think animating closed eyes is cheaper than animating open ones. Today’s anime eyes are very artsy and somehow disconnected to the overall graphics of a show, maybe they are part-CG even. I guess this is why anime characters tend to blink when they have to turn their heads. But if they are willing to animate blinking, why not do it regularly?

Nichijou is highly underrated. This has some of the best animation that I have ever seen.

Aside from blatant attempts at hiding a low budget, like stills, pans and the like, anime tries to save(?) money by trying to cut corners on aspects of anime that most people consider as unimportant. It really puts me off for some reason.


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31 Responses to Some Trifling Observations About Trifling Details in Our Trifling Anime

  1. Seele00 says:

    Just a pet peeve of yours I suppose. I tend to suspend most of my disbelief whenever I watch anime.

  2. vika says:

    I do notice the blinking issue, especially in close ups.

    There was a scene in a recent (I think) episode of Fate/Zero where Irisviel was in the picture but not involved in the conversation that was happening, and ufotable made the effort to have her blink a couple of times while watching the others speak. It stood out to me because it’s definitely fairly unusual in anime.

    • @fkeroge says:

      Ah, yes. I forgot about ufotable. The tendency is that the more budget is put into a show, the chances are higher that they’ll animate blinking.

  3. Cholisose says:

    Generally don’t notice these small details, but when done well it does make the whole show just a little more impressive. (Similarly, I like it when characters have a variety of different outfits, to show that they are actually changing clothes from day to day. Just makes things a bit more realistic.)

    “Nichijou is highly underrated. This has some of the best animation that I have ever seen.”

    • @fkeroge says:

      About the clothes changing thing, again, the only studio that I have seen actually doing this regularly is KyoAni. Others do it too, but a lot less often.

  4. glothelegend says:

    I better not start noticing these things in the anime I watch!

    That being said, making eye contact helps form connections, so maybe leaving the character’s eyes open can help form a connection with the audience? Maybe that’s the thinking of the studios? It’s probably just a budget thing.

    Nichijou is one of the best series ever.

    • @fkeroge says:

      “That being said, making eye contact helps form connections, so maybe leaving the character’s eyes open can help form a connection with the audience? Maybe that’s the thinking of the studios?”

      I lol’d. Well, I highly doubt that.

  5. Smiley says:

    You forgot about the noses. The less present the nose, the better; a non-existent one is clearly best.

  6. Ritsuioko23 says:

    Cool story bro. You mad?

  7. kluxorious says:

    It doesn’t bother me that much. It’s do not only happened in anime but in western cartoon as well. Also, I don’t want to focus on this trivial things when I am supposed to be enjoying the show.

    • @fkeroge says:

      Blinking and proper lip synchronization makes characters more human. Western animation takes that into account and animates mouths and eyes properly. As trivial as these things are, it won’t hurt anime studios to actually put at least some effort into it.

  8. Carillus says:

    Animating mouths: Current anime uses three frames for the mouth most of the time, closed, half-open and open. Moving on to animating based on mouth movements would require syncing animation with one movement every word, with at least five different ways of drawing the mouth (excluding in-between animation). Japanese is a faster language than most, and English average is rated at 150-160 words per minute, so that makes (Fermi calculation) maybe 200 words per minute. That’s 200 extra frames of animation per minute just for the five different ways of drawing the mouth. Counting the in-between animation as maybe one extra frame for the transition from the previous movement, that makes 400 extra frames per minute, making 10,000 extra frames for every episode. Frames can’t be reused in between scenes.

    Animating eyes: Blinking takes a minimum of three frames for a quick one: Open, fully-closed, and half-open. A well-animated eye may take perhaps five to seven frames. That’s an extra five frames per person framed in the screen. An average scene lasts perhaps five to seven seconds. If we were to animate a blink every two scenes, that would be one blink every ten to fifteen seconds. If we take it as fifteen, that would make four every minute, and 100 for every episode. That’s 700 extra frames of animation. Take note that this involves eyes: You can’t just reuse the frames from a previous scene, so they have to be drawn from scratch.

    The reason they blink when they turn their heads is because yes, it’s cheaper to animated closed eyes. That’s why they close them when actual animation is being done. But you can’t just leave them closed all the time, so they open their eyes when no movement happens.

    Just some food for thought. I’ve done animation before, so yeah, I kinda know what I’m talking about. After all, just seven seconds of basic animation took me 12 hours to complete. This little stuff doesn’t come cheap.

    • @fkeroge says:

      I see. As anime is a medium that relies heavily on conversation, I understand how much work will be added to the shoulders of animators. Anime studios aren’t as rich as say, Disney, nor do they have enough time to work with stuff that is usually not noticed by the ordinary anime fan. Still, it would be nice if we get treated to little extras like blinking or actual mouth animation. I now have more respect towards KyoAni than ever.

    • Smiley says:

      Just goes to show that while most try to cut corners, some go the extra mile.

  9. dliessmgg says:

    I’ve read somewhere that the Japanese language is less expressive in the way of moving lips wildly, maybe this can be used as an excuse.

    “Nichijou is highly underrated. This has some of the best animation that I have ever seen.” Too bad they use all that talent and money only to have random stuff happening, loosened up with a joke every once in a while.

  10. Mira says:

    Having taken around 2-3 months finishing this monstrous thing has given me a new appreciation of animators even if this simply involved a lot of tracing, inking, coloring and compositing and little actual storyboarding from scratch. I’ve done some animation work on the side, but none of them were as long as this.

    But anyway, as Carillus said–these little details need a lot of work. I don’t think it’s cutting corners but more of just being practical about things. Not all studios are like KyoAni who have a bunch of money they can throw at their shows and animators to make the animation as fluid as possible.
    This kind of thing would be adding at /least/ 20% more of the workload on an animator with results that most casual anime viewers will fail to notice.

    You definitely have a point, but whether or not it’s feasible is the question.

  11. ilegendC says:

    Gotta admire KyoAni and their “1 anime at a time” policy, as they have time to make the effort to perfect their animations and move mouths and eyes..

  12. Shance says:

    I think you’re talking about the wrong things to note out on the wrong turf. Japanese animation doesn’t really strive on spending time and budget just to keep some of us happy. You know that well enough.

    If some of you guys should know, the shows you watch don’t get animated in advance before they show them. They get animated on the fly, most of the time. Should animation studios spend a lot of time (which they lack) and budget (which they don’t really have jurisdiction of, unless it’s KyoAni) just to blink eyes and move mouths properly instead of doing half-assed CG effects on a scene that’s most important? I guess not, unless you’re Pixar, Disney, or whatever western-based studio with a Michael Bay mindset for quality.

    Lastly, it’s their style for God knows how long. Questioning that is actually against the rules.

    Shance is not amused.

    • @fkeroge says:

      Which brings us to the question: why not animate them in advance? Shows get announced up to a year before they actually air, so why not start working then? That should spread out the workload of the animators so they don’t get overworked like what happened in Persona.

      • Carillus says:

        Well, except they do, only that they have the other dozen or so series that they have to do as well.
        Plus, take into consideration that working takes money to pay the animators, and if the show isn’t released yet money isn’t coming in for it, so it’s harder than you think.

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