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Anime Awards: Which “Best Animation” nominee deserves the win?

The Great Pretender

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Anime Awards: Which “Best Animation” nominee deserves the win?

At the time that this goes live, we will be 3 days from the Crunchyroll Anime Awards. There’s plenty of categories to discuss, winners for speculation, and snubs to despair over, but for me, the most exciting category, as usual, is the ‘Best Animation’ category.

6 nominees, containing works from 5 talented studios that are all praised highly for the quality of animation across their projects. Some feel like a stiff competition against the others, while a few feel shoe-horned in. Which is which and who has the chops to win the award?

The God of High School

It’s funny and sad that the show about a tournament has the least chance of winning this one. I’m not implying that The God of High School isn’t well animated, nor that it’s too obscure. By all accounts, it looks great and it kinda has to, doesn’t it?

It’s a show designed to be a tournament arc from its conception. The fights needed to be at the top of their game. Director Seong-Hu Park was on a roll this past year, directing this and Jujutsu Kaisen, but therein lies the issue. God of Highschool might have diverse styles of animation bringing its myriad fights to life, but can it beat its older brother in the form of Jujutsu Kaisen?

I’m not sure God of High School garnered as much love as Kaisen for it to have a chance at winning.

The Great Pretender

If you’ve read my first or second review of Great Pretender, it’s clear that I have a great love for this show, but is that the same for its animation? Well… kinda. It’s certainly consistent, but this show’s greatest strength isn’t so much its animation as it is the artwork.

That’s a common divide when it comes to the animation category, isn’t it? There will be plenty of shows with gorgeous, fluid animation, be it effects, or action. However, some of them appear to only be nominated for how pretty they are. But shows that look pretty – like 2018 Best Animation winner Violet Evergarden – aren’t always the best animation, according to some.

This brings to mind the question of what makes a Best Animation contender worthy of the award. Consistency is a factor, to which Great Pretender certainly qualifies. However, the current emphasis on sakuga in this category favors action shows over some undeniably well-produced dramas such as Great Pretender.

Great Pretender has an incredibly unique color design and some wonderfully striking character art to boot. But in motion, did it wow me enough to beat out the other contenders? Personally no, though your mileage may vary.

If anything, Great Pretender‘s nomination is another reminder that there should be more categories to emphasize more visual elements than just animation. There’s already a category for character designs, why not one for color design, or backgrounds?

BEASTARS

Back in 2018, the Anime Awards had a category for “Best CGI,” a sign of CGI’s growing prominence in the medium. However, this year, having no CGI category, yet a big name CGI anime in the running for best animation is a bold choice.

Granted, there might not have been as many nominees for a CGI exclusive category, but I elect to think that the choice is meaningful all the same. BEASTARS was a huge success and is further proof that CG is becoming more accepted in the medium, with Netflix capitalizing on it frequently.

It’s expressive and eye-catching, without the choppiness that has long cast a shadow over computer animation in anime. BEASTARS looks great in ways that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Studio Orange’s previous hit, Land of the Lustrous.

Animation is a medium of translation. You are taking concepts, objects, and creatures familiar to all and bringing them to life through a medium separated from reality by a few precious degrees. Some more so than others, as animators blend fantastical ideas in with these familiar and relatable ones. You can make humans perform superhuman feats and give life to creations that would previously be slaved to the mind.

CGI anime’s biggest problem for the longest time was that it was trying too hard to be like hand-drawn anime. Japanese animators needed to rediscover what made those years of 2D animation so spectacular beyond just the method used to put it to the screen. And soon enough, even CGI cynics like myself began to embrace the CG in anime like Ultraman or Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045.

In short, I think BEASTARS has a decent shot of winning based on popularity alone. I for one would welcome its win, even with the potential upset, if only for the opportunity to give CGI anime some much-needed recognition.

Princess Connect! Re: Dive

Speaking of upsets, if there was ever to be a surprise, “didn’t see that coming” victor, Princess Connect certainly fits the bill. Coming from director Takaomi Kanasaki, Princess Connect‘s animation bears a striking similarity to his most famous work, Konosuba.

Having seen the first episode of this series, it is hilarious. Be it the action or the comic relief – of which there is plenty – the animation is unrelenting. There are a few shows that seem like obvious wins based on popularity, but it would be interesting if the following for this show – and the mobile game it’s based on – rallied behind this show to give it the win.

With how good it looks, I could hardly argue with the logic.

Jujutsu Kaisen

I take a slight issue with Kaisen‘s nomination. Don’t get me wrong, it looks great and is a wonderful show overall. That said, it’s still airing and will still be airing after the awards come out. In fact, a new episode will release the day that the Anime Awards take place.

So either the Anime Awards are judging based on an incomplete show, with its victory swayed more strongly by recency bias, or they’re only judging it based on the first half, presumably before the hiatus after the first cour. It’s my personal belief that if a two-cour show starts in the Fall season and ends in the Winter season of the new year, the show shouldn’t be able to be nominated until the next year’s award show.

(Animation by Vercreek)

You might argue that the show runs the risk of being forgotten in that case, but I would disagree. As I recently wrote in my post about the Winter 2021 season, Winter shows are historically some of the best of the year and go on to be recognized as such.

People have better memories than award show commentators will give us credit for. Sure, if the fandom wasn’t as strong, or if a show doesn’t get the right traction, it can be overshadowed. Sometimes, what comes later is just better received or offers more than what was claimed to be shafted.

I have no doubt that Jujutsu Kaisen could get just as much credit as it deserves at next year’s awards as it will this year. In fact, part of the reason that I take such an issue with the nomination is that Jujutsu Kaisen episode #17 may have single-handedly justified the nomination and a potential win… after the voting has already closed.

(Animation by Vercreek… again. Did I mention that this kid is like 17?!?)

Shota Goshozono. This is the director of this episode and, frankly, he’s created one of the most consistently spectacular episodes of an anime I’ve seen since Fate/Apocrypha #22. Perhaps I’m overexaggerating. I mean, that episode of Apocrypha was the stuff of legends, even with the inconsistency and how out of place it felt in its own show.

JJK #17 was much more on-brand in comparison, while still clearly being a cut above the already impressive standard set by the show prior. The way the characters move. The way they react to getting hit. The warped perspectives and slick close-ups. Episodes like this continually experiment with advantageous, creative camera movements, and surreal character animation pronounced through absurd amounts of detail.

(Animation by Yuuki Yamashita)

To get a better idea of what makes this episode so gorgeous, check out Jamal’s (@GetInTheMecha) thread on Twitter. Follow him while you have the chance. He’s incredibly insightful on sakuga and animation and frequently tweets about the episode directors and animators behind the seasons’ best episodes.

You see what I meant when I said I wanted the show to get nominated next year, right? Someone might have voted for Eizouken and then saw JJK #17 a few weeks later and thought “holy crap what an episode! I wish I voted for this!”

It makes me wonder if JJK will get nominated again at next year’s award show just for the second half. I don’t know how I’d feel about that. There are too many grey areas in the Crunchyroll Awards where it feels like they simply toss a coin to decide if something makes sense or not. This is one that I think can be a detriment in the long run.

Say JJK doesn’t win, but in a year or two people look back at the awards and think “how the hell did this not win? Did they see the finale?” Nope, no one did. It hadn’t aired yet, but the awards treat this as a complete series.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Finally, we have Masaaki Yuasa’s Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, his first TV anime in a few years at the time of its release. Looking at the reception critically, as well as among the sakuga community and the anime community as a whole, this and JJK are neck and neck. They are the two likeliest winners of this award.

With Eizouken, though, it almost feels as though the animation holds a bit more weight in context. Granted, animation considered “good” will hold a lot of weight within its context, either carrying the emotion of the scene or being propelled further by it. What I mean is that Eizouken is a series that is conceptually celebrating the labor of love that is animation.

Its main trio is analogous to the production pipeline of animation in Japan. The director, overflowing with ideas and assaulted by the stress of organizing them into a cohesive story. The key animator, laboring tirelessly over a single cut and despairing having to move on from a project before it’s finished. Finally, the producer, who has to make the tough calls and cut corners to make something that is quality while meeting deadlines.

Eizouken’s character animation is adorable and between the sequences of characters becoming lost in their imagination to the viewings of the film club’s finished animations, the series is a love letter. It might be true that the animation hits as effectively as it does because of the story surrounding it, but that animation is so intentionally incomplete at times to be believably produced by its young cast.

Anime about making anime is practically a niche subgenre in itself. Between the harsh reality of Shirobako to the cynicism of Girlish Number, it always has something to teach about the medium. Eizouken was genuinely educational and taught through visuals that lacked that final polish but lacked for nothing in the amount of heart.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Jujutsu Kaisen, Princess Connect! Re: Dive, and The God of High School are all available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll. BEASTARS and Great Pretender are available for legal streaming worldwide on Netflix.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye out for the latest news and reviews!

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