Animation as a Medium

I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love.  (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)

At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up.  However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there.  Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years.  Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans.  However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).

This charts the number of paid subscribers to Crunchyroll from September 2012 to February 2017.

Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature.  What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality.  The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief.  To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion.  And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style.  Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.

Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom.  Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated.  What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.

This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect.  Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.

Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium.  And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids.  Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children.  I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata.  Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war.  In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.

Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.

Youjia Wang

Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a


The Hunger Games: The Arena’s Boundaries

I honestly don’t think I have ever hated a movie more than I hated the Hunger Games.  I had fallen in love with the novels and had built up so much hope for the movie and left heart broken (slightly exaggerated obviously, but still, it sucked).  However, this is not a blog post about why I liked the book better.  Shortly after watching the movie I began to rant to a friend about it.  But he disagreed with me, strongly.  He had never read the books and had loved the movie for what it offered.  His argument made me reevaluate my original opinion.  I had judged the movie based on the book instead of as a completely separate work.  Although I still liked the books better than the movie, the second time I watched it I evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the media in comparison to the strengths and weakness of the novel media.

The first thing I found deals with how each media expresses the thoughts and feelings of the characters.  In the books, my absolute favorite aspect had always been the psychological trauma that the characters had gone through and how their thought processes changes as the plot goes on (I even wrote a paper on this in cognitive studies last semester).  I loved the monologues of Katniss just thinking in her head and describing the world around her.  This is what I would say is a strength of the book media.  However, the movie media doesn’t allow for this.  They must portray the protagonists’ thoughts through dialogue or flashbacks or other strategies.  This is a weakness of the movie media.

The next thing I found deals with internal depictions while reading.  I personally have the tendency to ignore descriptions of characters and imagine them completely opposite than how the author tells me too.  I believe this is a weakness of the book media because it is completely up to the reader to interpret the author’s vision.  However, in the movie you are told what you see, literally.  There is no room for interpretation.  Everything is planned out.  I believe this is a strength of the media because it has the power to truly capture the author’s vision.

After having this experience with the Hunger Games and realizing that each media has boundaries, I will never view a remediation in the same way.  From now on, I will evaluate each version as its own art work.

-Emily Blake

But is it Art?

Take aside any random person on the street. Go ahead, do it; they won’t mind. Ask them a simple question, “Are video games art?” What will their response be? Unless their either a gamer, a techie, or fairly young, most will answer with the same thing: no. After all, how profound can something like Halo or Grand Theft Auto be when compared to Michaelangelo’s David or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? It seems obvious that video games are purely entertainment, and hold little more value, artistically or otherwise. While this may be true, our definitions of “art” change drastically over time, whether it’s caused by advancements in technology, philosophy, the natural sciences, or any of a number of reasons. Because of this, it will only be a matter of time until society’s views on video games change and they are seen as a fine art.

This has certainly been the case historically. Painting, for example, has evolved so much, just in the past 600 years, a wink in the eye of time. Up until the Italian Renaissance, paintings were for the most part limited to flat, two-dimensional Madonnas.

Italo-Byzantinischer_Maler_des_13._Jahrhunderts_001.jpgMedieval Mother and Child

However, from that point on, Artists experimented with many new techniques, including linear perspective, as illustrated by Raphael’s Madonna:

The School of Athens

The evolution of painting did not stop there, though. Impressionism, made famous by Vincent Van Gogh, discarded realism in favor of wide, sweeping, emotional brush strokes. Pablo Picasso’s cubism, which throws reality out the window, borders on absurd. Both movements, like video games, were highly criticized at the time, and yet today they are hailed as some of the greatest works of art known to man.

Self Portrait - Vincent Van Gogh

Historically, as new forms of media have taken rise, they have not been met with the kindest of welcomes. As feature films grew in popularity, they were seen as a threat to the theatre industry, and hardly qualified as art. Yet today, classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Godfather, and Dr. Strangelove: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb are seen as artful masterpieces. Likewise, many had the same attitudes toward television as it was introduced to the public. However, both fiction and nonfiction pieces alike (Roots, for example) are virtually unanimously agreed upon as works of art. Therefore, it is inevitable that video games will follow this same cycle. Are they works of art today? That’s a stretch, but what about the future? It’s almost certain.

-Matt Thumser