Ever since that featureless green box pretending to be a helicopter showed up in Golgo 13 back in 1983, CG animation in Japanese anime have been the butt of many jokes, not least from myself. Even all these years and technological advances later, CG animation still suffers from featureless figures, floaty movement, lack of impact, botox faces, awkward movement, incapable of gelling with traditional 2D animation, and a host of other problems that you can’t quite put your finger on but know just don’t look right. Even this year with Knights of Sidonia, a full 3D CG animated TV anime with otherwise some great camerawork and directing that I did quite enjoy, still suffered from all these same CG anime problems. But in 2014 there were some signs for me that maybe CG anime does have a place. For every awkward CG crowd scene in Parasyte, there’s a corresponding high-octane mecha battle that looks way better in CG than any 2D animated mecha this year. So let’s count down 4 examples from this year.
1: Ghost in the Shell: Arise
Stand Alone Complex was one of the best animated TV productions ever back when it came out in 2002, but even then it couldn’t escape the hilariously awkward CG cars floating along a road rather than driving. 12 years later gave us some direct comparisons as a new Ghost in the Shell came out and had plenty more CG car chases floating about. It still looked awkward at times, with a curiously flat CG model of the major sitting on top of her Akira motorbike. But as heavily armoured truck crashed down a motorway, shoving cars aside, while a sports car drove alongside and flipped on its two side wheels so someone could lean out the top of the window to get a better shooting angle as a motorbike ramped through the side carriages in the truck with the Major shooting a pistol at the driver while a Logicoma swung overhead in its best Attack on Titan Survey Corps impression, was all animated in CG, I realised that boy I guess anime really has gotten somewhere. It was miles better than nearly every action sequence Stand Alone Complex produced and I don’t think it could have been done without CG animation.
2: Code Geass: Akito the Exiled
Technically I saw this OVA last year, but it was after Christmas so it counts. The first OVA for Akito demonstrated some fine CG animated mecha fights, but it was in the second episode that it really stretched its wings and showed how good CG mecha good be. I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t think of any any mecha fights in anime that top the ones in Akito. The ninja spider mechs leaping through the forest and water, jumping on the back of the traditional Code Geass Knightmare Frames, while the camera spins around like it’s on a very fast orbit around the mech. Throw in the unbelievably ridiculous giant golden centaur mech at the end of episode 2 for full on Code Geass brilliant nonsense. Mecha battles were never the draw for the Code Geass TV series, but in Akito they absolutely are. Those CG mechs top any 2D animated mecha fights this decade and anyone who is calling for 2D mech battle animation is living in the past.
3: Studio Khara
This is an interesting one. Studio Khara, the animation studio that makes the Evangelion Rebuild films, produced a little CG anime short for the CG World 2014 Creative Conference. The idea was to create CG animation that had the same visual style as normal well-animated anime. What’s fascinating about it is it shows that a lot of the stiltedness you usually associate with CG animation don’t have to be inherent to its format. You can use the squash and stretch techniques of animation to create something with more weight to it. Speedlines and motion blurring and all the tricks usually associated with 2D animation can be done in CG. This short opened by eyes that these problems can be solved with the right techniques to create something with as much impact as 2D while combining the swooping cameras and other bonuses CG animation brings us.
Shirobako has very little CG animation, apart from out main character occasionally pulling out some pretty crazy Initial D moves, and none of it is particularly good. This isn’t about the CG animation in Shirobako. Rather this is about how the characters in Shirobako talk about CG animation. In case you’re not watching Shirobako (in which case what are you doing, go watch it now), it’s about the daily life of a bunch of girls trying to work in the anime industry, with our lead character working as a production assistant. In one episode a fight breaks out between a CG animator and a 2D animator because
Taou is a fuckhead of creative differences between their mediums. The discussions that came about from their fight showed to me that all the problems and issues I have with CG animation are known in Japan. The people inside the industry are talking about them and trying to fix them too. They are not looking at their awkward CG monsters and saying “yup, that looks fine”. Long may their effort continue and I hope it really does continue to improve. They’re getting there. Slowly but surely, CG animation is getting there.