Guide to Sakuga | 2019

Amazing impact frames, beautiful character animation, carefully detailed fabric animation… yes all of it and more is what you can call Sakuga (作画), in Japanese literally translated to “drawing pictures”. The so-called “big money shot” (please don’t go around the community saying that…) sequence highlight of an anime episode or even an entire series, demonstrating a drastic increase in the animation quality either it is an amazing fluid action pack scene like the likes of Yutaka Nakamura works or a carefully and beautiful character animation enhancing all the character emotions like Toshiyuki Tsuru scenes.

So we already past the introductions, you already have a general knowledge of what is Sakuga. So, let’s get to the juice part, how can you be an avid fan of sakuga in 2019. Like you, if you’re new to sakuga, I was newbie into sakuga world not so long ago. So, think really the best way to start is following sakuga knowledged people on twitter that give you sometimes really in-depth insight on the latest animation feats on both seasonal and long-run animes.

  • kViN (Kevin Cirugeda) – Kevin is the owner and creator of sakugabooru and sakuga blog.
  • Ashita – Ashita is one of the mods of sakugabooru and one of the main “go to” if you really want so in-depth info about some of the sakuga highlights.
  • Canipa (Callum May) is mainly a writer ANN (Animenewsnetwork) where he conducts interviews with anime industry personalities, also have a youtube channel where he animation breakdowns and spotlights about animes, studios etc.
  • Liborek – Admin at sakugabooru also a writer on sakuga blog, he has some amazing series if you are a Mob Psycho 100 fans you might want to check his series on it.
  • randomsakuga – If you want your daily dose of amazing animation craft, search no more.
  • Blou – Usually tweets about staff and animators related info.
  • Murad – He knows about One Piece more than anyone and he’s the really go to if you are interested about OP animation info in-depth.
  • YGP – As he describes himself Gintama enthusiast and Detective Conan fanboy. He’s currently doing a sakuga rewatch series of tweets on Gintama, I really recommend if you’re a fan.
  • Sakyuuga – Retweets a lot and share really interesting info about a varied number of things.
  • Naruto Sakuga – Posts random of Naruto series.
  • PurpleGeth – Huge fan of Naruto and Pokemon, occasionally posts for on naruto sakuga and writes on his own blog.
  • Raeed – Sakugabooru moderator, we do really good genga comparisons for many series.
  • Ajay – This one is for Dragon Ball franchise fans and not only, but he also’s a sakuga Enthusiast and of course a Dragon Ball Specialist. Also, have a youtube channel with amazing animations breakdowns.
  • Anime Background Art – What would be anime without amazingly beautiful and artistic backgrounds, you can follow Anime Background Art to admire this wonderful craft.

There are so much more awesome accounts that I can recommend to you, I would recommend you to check FAR from Animation blog article Minimum collection of resources for sakugaposting for more sources like introductions to sakuga, some really good info blogs etc.

So, you really interested in sakuga and start to enjoy specific styles and animators, but you really want to know about your personal favorites and which animes they worked on and which scenes. Then you probably want to check out some sakuga compilations MAD on youtube, and check Animator’s Corner for show staff and specific staff works (although isn’t too much up to date).

For up to date shows and animators credits you might have to check some Japanese pages, but you don’t really have to know Japanese. I’ll tell a little trick I do even barely know Japanese, firstly Animenewsnetwork is actually a very good source for staff and shows info even updated on some seasonal shows. Although of course, they don’t always have all the credits and staff list of every show and episodes, so for that I usually use seesaawiki (for shows) and atwiki (for staff) back and forward with ANN to get a specific episode or show staff or particular animator info.

Animation Styles

As for the animation styles, I don’t have any specific “line of work” that I really invested in, but definitely, any character animation that transmits to me honest and realistic emotions from the character and really meticulous drawings, that’s what I look forward the most when I’m looking for great animation.

Although, in my yet short time as sakuga fan if I really had to pick one animator or specific style I definitely chouse Toshiyuki Tsuru. We probably most know by his amazing directing talent more than animations, but both end up influencing the other. My first impact with Tsuru’s craft was this scene from Naruto Shippuden, it really intrigued me at the time how much a short sequence could convey so clearly all the feelings that the character was having at that time, it simply made me look for more. Tsuru’s high number of drawings in which scene really impressed me but that was only the beginning… I end up finding that besides directing/storyboarding and animating some of the most well-crafted openings and endings sequences, like GTO awesome OP2, he was the man responsible for some of the best episodes coming from the Naruto franchise, clearly not an easy task but really far from that.

 I could just stay here talking about how good his episodes were, but instead, I really want to point a specific episode which I strongly believe was the best directional feat from all series, Naruto Shippuden #82. Tsuru’s screenplay and storyboard were way distinct and unique from the rest made until then, his slow but progressive direction working up a character from negation to action leading to the final breakdown and resolve was done so carefully and meaningful. The tones of gray and sound composition were on point making that episode so emotionally strong, ending on a high note of hope and courage facing the future.

I don’t want to prolong myself more, I mean you all see what I’d want to say. Toshiyuki Tsuru is amazing, so other’s animators and directors too. Also, mention Naoko Yamada’s works, her direction style and “cute” character animation from Kyoani’s school is really beautifully fascinating. So, I invited Far from the blog Farfromanimation to provide us with his thoughts about animation style.

Animation styles? What to say, I have wide-ranging tastes, I appreciate many schools of animation that are poles apart from each other so I would say that I do not have an “ideal” of what for me must be an animated sequence. Each animator puts much of their personality into his work and, in some cases, becomes an irreplaceable figure at the service of the director or their own creative path. What I love the most is to see the animators who do their best by following the techniques that most convey their conception of the medium. I am not in favor of a specific modus operandi or style, but there are some “schools” I loved to study in depth.

I really appreciate Neo-Kanada, the animation style of animators like Seiya Numata, Keisuke Watabe, Akira Amemiya, Hiroyuki Imaishi and Jun Arai who in the 90ies the early 2000s tried to repurpose timings and visual effects very inspired by those of the late Yoshinori Kanada but in a way more congenial to modern designs. Although today is indeed a disused style, the only animator who is notably inspired by this style is definitely just Kai Ikarashi, I still consider it very interesting for how manages to evoke strong emotions and to represent spontaneous but rich and cartoonish reactions in the characters as well as pretty unpredictable effects. It can create amusing moments as well as extremely dramatic and excited ones. It is characterized by extreme use of reflections and shadings, by a great use of kinetic lines and by an extremely irregular and jerky timing, so much so that it very often uses so-called impact frames to capture exciting moments through peculiar uses of the bichrome. I appreciated this style very superficially, for many years but recently, I found myself to re-open it after many beautiful and inspiring discussions done with twitter user @Agresiel, who is a true connoisseur of those artists.

In part, it reminds me of the more synthetic and “flat” Japanese artistic expressions, such as ukiyo-e, for example, where a majestic clear sky or a beautiful mountain, a stinky old man intent on farting or a tanuki who exhibits his giant testicles are described using the same potent visual language. Kanada’s style, in this case, more specifically the Neo-Kanada style, has succeeded in such intent and for this reason, I quite agree with those critics like Murakami who compare his visual language with that of the more classical art as a very unique of “visual grammar”. In favor of this sort of semiotic theory o about the “Kanada Style” as a strong visual grammar, we can just think how many animators with a unique style, like Shinya Ohira, Mitsuo Iso or Takeshi Koike, for example, started their career as members of Kanada School and then hybridized that style by deforming it for their own purposes. Knowing it a little for sure isn’t harmful at all!

Another style that I love very much is that of the most recent wave of young animators coming from the web, like China, Yoh/Ken Yamamoto or Nakaya Onsen, who are very attentive observers of everyday life and in part propose themselves as “new realists”. They are characterized by the well-balanced and rich poses of the characters, they pay particular attention to elements such as hands, legs and above all, they give particular importance to the three-dimensionality of human bodies.

Like many, I became interested in studying animators through figures such as Mitsuo Iso, Toshiyuki Inoue, and Hiroyuki Okiura thanks of their extreme ability to makes the characters “act” in a convincing way in cinematic contexts. Seeing their lessons presented again with new freshness by young animators in a way suited to contemporary television series makes them kinda familiar but at the same time not boring at all. What differentiates them from the old “realists” in my opinion is a matter of mere interest in the subjects. The closeness of China for a Bishoujo or that of Onsen for a Bishounen is something that has not characterized old animators like Osamu Tanabe or a Hideki Hamasu, for example. I do not intend to say it’s is a real emotional closeness, like that of Naoko Yamada for the characters she directs, but surely, it is a closeness made of profound interest. Not for the character itself but for the archetype for sure.

We can say that their skills make these figures, as well as that of many other animators like Ryusuke Nishii, Ryo Araki or Keisuke Kobayashi, as if they were talented actors, able to greatly support a director particularly interested in a not-so deformed physicality of the characters. This makes those unsung stars extremely fascinating.

Another trick that I adore is the little practiced, but extremely expressive, use of digital brushes in animation. The forerunner of this technique was Mitsuo Iso in the film Blood but soon became the trademark of Kou Yoshinari, who is receiving great media attention recently. Essentially, it consists of rejecting the regular coloring process pretty much based on filling up all the parts of the animation drawing to painting the animation frames as if they were single illustrations. It is usually accompanied by a strong control of photography, but even in its absence, the use of color is able to clearly separate that vividly animated moment by every other scene. It can be adopted to create oneiric sequences but also to make visual effects like flames or smoke more similar to our optic perception of their consistency. Recently, Kiyotaka Oshiyama has used it in Penguin Highway and I think it will not be the last artist interested in this expressive possibility.

If we talk about animators, about individuals, then the whole thing becomes complex. There are really too many! I cannot separate myself from the brushstrokes of Hisashi Mori, violent like an earthquake, which he uses with the necessary stylistic differences to represent both gargantuan effects and the outline of energetic characters.
Yuuya Geshi is another artist that I love adore, especially for how He manages to “blend” characters and effects into a single world that does not have such realistic characteristics. In fact, the effects almost end up becoming musical instruments that, like a chorus, sing an ad hoc background melody that sets the tones for the real actors.

Takahiro Shikama and his peculiar ability to manage the dynamic camera during the air clashes, Satoru Utsunomiya with his frightening control of the weight and balance of the characters, able to make them move at harmonious but at the same time truly credible rhythms. Takaaki Yamashita and his shadowless worlds, Hironori Tanaka and his simple and clean formal patterns that are repeated in a thousand different contexts, Takashi Hashimoto and his maniacal care for the physics of explosions. I could stay to list a thousand others for hours, my advice is starting from those that I mentioned and then always discover new ones, first through Sakuga MADs and Sakugabooru’s entries since they are pretty much available for everyone without knowing any Japanese, a skill that could be very helpful later for in-depth research.

I hope you enjoyed this read up as much I enjoyed to write it. I also hope you understand how animation is beautiful and appreciate the work behind it and the amazing people who make it. Big thanks to FAR for lending me his knowledge in this article and for all the sources he provided.

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