Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anime Best of 2013, Part 4: Visuals

So this post will look at the best visuals in anime. As a fair warning, though, I am no visual artistic specialist, and these particular "best of" lists will largely be based on what stuck out in my mind as having memorable visuals.

And while I would love to have a screencap spam for this post, I am rather busy at the moment, so that will have to wait until perhaps later. Most of these shows can be found streaming online, so check out an episode if you want to see all those cool visuals.

And finally, while I will include some traditional "top 10" lists, this post will largely be a look at each season of anime and its animation trends.

I'll say this: Free! has the most fluid animation of any anime this year. In more ways than one.

A Retrospective on Visuals (By Season)

Winter 2013 (includes Fall 2012 carry-overs)

It's a bit strange that Sasami-san@Ganbaranai got overlooked as much as it did, considering that it came from the same studio that did Madoka Magica. The show has all of SHAFT's usual visual flair--and by usual flair, I mean insane, crazy visuals. If you're a fan of Studio SHAFT's crazy visuals, I definitely recommend checking out this show.

Kyoto Animation also had an offering this season, Tamako Market, which visually is every bit as much of a treat as any of their other series. The show itself might not be as critically acclaimed, but that's not a knock on its visuals.

AKB0048 takes the cake this season for best action. It also has some amazing visual effects for the performances, which makes sense. As for the 3DCG idol dancing itself… it's okay. I still prefer hand-drawn animation to CG animation, but the CG here wasn't too bad. On another note, I rather like this show's character designs, even with the whole putting heart outlines in everyone's hair and eyes.

After spending time with all sorts of different studios, Minami-ke ends up in Studio feel.'s hands for its fourth season, and with it comes a much improved show in many ways, including having by far my favorite character designs of these characters compared to other seasons.

J.C. Staff had two shows across Fall 2012 and Winter 2013, and it's a bit odd how unbalanced the animation was between the two. It's perhaps a bit odder that Little Busters!, the arguably more popular of the two, was the one with lesser production values. Not that I have any complaints that The Pet Girl of Sakurasou having such amazing art and good animation. I mean, it's a show about the arts, so it's very fitting.

Finally, I have to give a mention to Yama no Susume, which, despite being a short, still had some great scenery to go with the show's mountain-climbing theme.

Spring 2013

Hoo boy, this season was a crazy one for visuals.

First of all, another one of animation's powerhouse studios, P.A. Works, put their all into yet another offering in Red Data Girl, which visually is absolutely incredible. Which is good, because the show itself is, in my opinion, just okay. I'd be willing to buy the show on Blu-ray, though, for those gorgeous visuals alone.

Of course, I can't talk about 2013's visuals without mentioning 2013's biggest show, Attack on Titan. Studio WIT, an offshoot of Production I.G., really made their name known here, making the most of this adaptation through the animation of the Titan battles. However, in the first half of the show, they did run into various delays and otherwise had to resort to stills and other shortcuts to save on budget. It does pay off, though, in the second half, especially in the finale.

I also cannot talk about Spring 2013 without talking about the season's most controversial show, The Flowers of Evil. The rotoscoped character designs and animations are at least a deliberate choice on the part of the director and the original mangaka, so whether one likes the choice or not, at least it's not out of some kind of budget-saving attempt by ZEXCS. Some will claim that the style is genius and a perfect break from moe art styles that have dominated recent anime, while others think the art style is just plain ugly. I say… eh, Episode 7 was pretty nicely done. Otherwise, I don't really care about it a whole lot.

Finally, the best visuals from this season definitely come from Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. The world of ships on the flooded planet is already nice, but the scenery at night is particularly beautiful, especially during one amazing scene involving a passing herd of whalesquid.

Summer 2013

Summer 2013 was the season for which I watched the most currently-airing anime in one season, and there's plenty to talk about here. First of all, this season debuted Monogatari Series Season 2, and with it, Monogatari's (and SHAFT's) penchant for crazy visuals. WataMote might be by Silver Link and not SHAFT (though the director, Shin Oonuma, formerly worked at SHAFT), but it has its fair share of fun and crazy visuals, too.

For action, look no further than Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, specifically, episode 6. That battle is nothing short of epic. That battle scene is easily the best action scene of all of 2013--yes, even beating Attack on Titan's season finale.

Cute-girls-doing-cute-things shows might not normally get a whole lot of attention in visuals (unless produced by Kyoto Animation), but Kin-iro Mosaic definitely deserves mention here. Studio Gokumi is a strong studio and their work on this show is phenomenal. There are some seriously amazing visuals in this show (check out some of those Christmas light displays in episode 11), and the animation is also very good. Studio Gokumi also deserves mention for their work on Saki Achiga-hen: Episode of Side-A, the last four episodes of which aired this year, and which is definitely a step up above the already-rather good first season. This is definitely a studio to keep your eye on.

I also have to mention Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen here. The move from Nomad to Studio DEEN comes with a change in art style that is very fitting for this "alternate" story, and helps to breathe new life into a series that I had felt gotten rather weak in its original run.

P.A. Works's offering this season, The Eccentric Family, is rather unusual for the studio, in that it uses an art style completely different from what they're normally known for, such that, at first look, it doesn't look like it has as beautiful production values as most of their shows. That is, until you see just how well and detailed this show is animated, and then you see that it is very much a P.A. Works-worthy show. There's also some incredible scenery at various points.

If you want more great scenery, check out Tamayura ~more aggressive~ for some classic Japanese scenery, or Sunday Without God for something more fantastical.

And, of course, we have to talk about the big show this season, Kyoto Animation's (and Animation DO's) offering, Free!. Of course it has amazing animation. Of course it's got lots of hot guys. It's also got one of the best-designed female characters in anime, in Gou. Sure, the cutesy designs of my favorite cute-girls shows are nice, but it's nice to also see some more mature-looking girls, especially from a studio like Kyoto Animation.

Fall 2013

I won't be covering shows that continued into 2014 here, so no talking about the craziness that is Kill la Kill, or P.A. Works's latest visual masterpiece, Nagi no Asukara, here.

J.C. Staff must have decided that Little Busters! Refrain is the more important part of the story, because it seems all their animation budget went in here instead of the first season. It's still not on the same level as Kyoto Animation, but it's a very noticeable improvement, and helps make the second season a definitive step up.

I'll quickly mention Outbreak Company here, as it's also done by Studio feel., which I seem to be rather a fan of in terms of character designs (see Winter 2013's Minami-ke Tadaima), and this show is no exception.

And if it's scenery you want, look no further than Non Non Biyori, which as an iyashikei show about the countryside, features plenty of it, and it is gorgeous.

The final mention of this season is once again Kyoto Animation's work, Beyond the Boundary. This show definitely had a lot of expectations, mainly because it was an action show, and Kyoto Animation, for all of its animation prowess, hasn't done much in the way of action. The result here is glorious… at least, animation-wise. Whether the story itself could match the animation is an entirely different story… but hey, you can't say it doesn't look amazing. (It also has by far this year's best idol dance sequence.)

Top 10 Animation

Not going to talk much about these; all of these are mentioned above.

10. Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya
9. Attack on Titan
8. WataMote
7. Tamako Market
6. The Eccentric Family
5. Red Data Girl
4. AKB0048 next stage
3. Free!
2. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
1. Beyond the Boundary

Top 10 Visuals

This covers more in the way of static art and visual styles as opposed to the animation itself. I'll be trying to cover different shows here.

10. Little Busters! Refrain
9. Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen
8. Sunday Without God
7. Tamayura ~more aggressive~
6. Non Non Biyori
5. The Eccentric Family
4. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai
3. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
2. Kin-iro Mosaic
1. Monogatari Series Second Season

Top 10 Character Designs

100% completely, utterly, my opinion. And by "my opinion", I mean "dominated by moe girls". If you have a problem with that… well, I'll respect your opinion, but I don't care. :P

10. Little Busters!
9. Free!
8. Yuyushiki
7. Outbreak Company
6. AKB0048
5. GJ-Club
4. Sunday Without God
3. Tamako Market
2. Minami-ke Tadaima
1. Kin-iro Mosaic

Bonus Award: The "Stop Making Me Hungry!" Prize

The show with the best visuals of food is… of course, Silver Spoon.

Next time, I will start looking at characters.

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