Anime’s Greatest Achievement Is Also Its Greatest Pitfall

Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen-1

Summary

High-quality anime separates itself from manga/light novels with top-tier production values and creative animation.

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Modern anime maintains its edge with incredible production, but faces challenges like cost and human effort.

While anime is popular, top manga like Berserk prove that peak animation is sometimes overrated or unneeded.

Fans of modern Japanese pop culture can choose from manga, anime, light novels, and games to find entertainment, and each of them has its own perks and unique features. Arguably, anime is the “main” form of Japanese pop culture, with anime becoming a global sensation as the best animated television that fans in any nation can ask for. Anime has a few advantages over light novels and manga, including the potential for incredible production quality. Put more simply, anime can look really good.

Japanese anime has come a long way since the low-def, low-framerate productions of the 20th century, and today, anime fans are used to a remarkably high standard. Great animation can’t save a badly written story, of course, but great animation is still a key part of what keeps fans coming back for more, and by now, fans take it for granted. There are a few reasons why this seemingly superficial factor has become #1 for anime fans, though a few counter-arguments can still keep animation in check.

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There’s No Going Back Once Animation Becomes Truly Great

The power of human creativity has always existed in all decades, but the production values of TV, movies, video games, and Japanese anime weren’t always equipped to bring a talented artist’s works to life in a proper way. Novels and paintings are low-tech ways for any creator to bring their creative visions to life, but now pop culture fans also have HD animation to experience a story. Japan always has wonderful written fiction and live-action TV and movies to offer, then and now, but high-quality anime is a relatively new tool for creative expression.

Anime has caught up to mainstream artistic methods like paintings and live-action movies, and the novelty of it, combined with anime’s other perks, makes the anime industry the global juggernaut it is today. And it’s only getting better. From the 1980s to today, Japanese anime steadily increased in production values, from higher frame rates to the use of HD visuals and advanced camerawork, and some series are famous for it. The Demon Slayer manga, while a solid shonen story in its own right, didn’t become a global sensation until studio UFOtable animated it.

If the anime came out in the 1980s, it would have been a different story. Something similar might be said about shonen works like Attack on Titan and Jujutsu Kaisen, which elevate their source manga series into modern pop culture legends. That doesn’t diminish the creative prowess of authors like Hajime Isayama, but it’s still a comment on the sheer power of high-quality anime. Fans enjoy manga, but it’s a high-quality anime that really brings in the crowds. Anime fans have gotten used to this increase in production values and animation quality, and there’s no going back. The fandom understands that not everything can look like Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 or an Attack on Titan fight scene, but such anime series still raise the average for what anime looks like.

A few anime may have simple and cartoony visuals on purpose, such as Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, but those are exceptions. HD anime is here to stay, and fans are used to advanced camerawork, high frame rates, and lush, vivid visuals for characters’ faces, supernatural attacks, and backgrounds, among other things. Even if it’s a serious burden to bear, anime studios have little choice but to keep up that trend and keep delivering top-tier anime with stellar production values. It’s the new norm, and there’s no sign the trend will taper off or reverse itself anytime soon.

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High-Quality Production Values Help Anime Maintain its Edge Over Manga/Light Novels

The never-ending push for top-tier production values in anime doesn’t just come from fans’ expectations. Excellent production values for any anime series can help give anime a serious edge over manga and Japanese light novel series, which also have strong fandoms. These three industries have plenty of overlap — it’s not totally a zero-sum game. But even so, manga and anime each offer things that the other does not, and their respective creators strive to take advantage of that.

One of anime’s key advantages is the relatively new but incredibly high potential for animated production values, including frame rates, high-def visuals, a great soundtrack, strong voice acting, and even memorable credits sequences. Chainsaw Man, for example, is a subversive anime series that creatively bent the rules by having a different song for each outro credits sequence. Having excellent production values helps a modern anime distance itself from its manga cousin and make the most of what manga can never do, but just being anime isn’t enough.

A poorly executed anime adaptation may actually upset or anger fans, such as the 2016 Berserk adaptation, while a mediocre anime adaptation is fun but forgettable. The original manga will always stand as the definitive and most reliable way to consume the story, so an anime must push all its advantages to the max to surpass the manga. Successful cases like Demon Slayer and Attack on Titan are legendary for that, since the anime goes the extra mile to not just add movement and sound to the story, but do so in incredible ways. Author Gege Akutami’s Jujutsu Kaisen manga is quite good, as most fans agree, so it would tak an extraordinary anime to surpass it and push JJK’s fame further, and studio MAPPA delivered.

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High-Quality Anime Comes at a Price, and Not Just Money

High-quality anime like Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer raised the bar and upped the average quality of modern anime, and fans have expectations to match. But this comes at a price. Not only does top-tier animation cost a lot of money that not all studios have, such great animation costs a lot of human effort, to the point the Japanese animne industry has become mired in controversy. Fans have heard grim accounts of overworked, underpaid, and burnt-out staff who are pushed incredibly hard to produce anime episodes on time, with Jujutsu Kaisen being a notable example.

It’s not much different than manga authors being pushed to unhealthy extremes to produce their work, and cases like the late Kentaro Miura made that abundantly clear. On the plus side, manga artists are now getting more leeway to take breaks and preserve their health, with their editors and fans alike giving them room for self-care. However, the anime industry seems different, perhaps because airing new episodes in a channel’s time slots on time isn’t entirely the same as publishing new chapters in a magazine like Weekly Shonen Jump.

That, and there may be much more money in anime than manga, so the pressure’s on to keep producing content even if animators are worked to the bone. Fans, at least, are conscious of how overworked those animators are and understand the humanitarian cost of getting such stellar production values in anime like Jujutsu Kaisen. Whatever the studio managers may say or do, at least the fans may express gratitude for the hard-working staff and show patience and understanding while waiting for a new season of anime like JJK or Attack on Titan. Fans may expect peak animation quality for series like Jujutsu Kaisen, and not without reason, but they know that the creators are only human.

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The Best Manga Suggest Peak Animation is Sometimes Overrated

As a whole, it’s evident that anime has a bigger draw than manga for fans around the globe. Fans might say anime is the “main” way to experience a story like My Hero Academia or Fruits Basket, and in some cases, that may be true. That said, the source manga will never be completely redundant or obsolete. A great anime series like Demon Slayer will drive astonishing sales of their source manga, with Demon Slayer becoming one of the best-selling manga of all time thanks to its anime.

Even without sound and crisp HD visuals, Demon Slayer’s manga still delivers, and for some series, the ratio of quality and appeal goes in the opposite direction. The legendary seinen manga Berserk is a prominent example, an R-rated dark fantasy series that thrives on extreme content that’s not suitable for anime. Several anime adaptations do exist, but none of them do Mr. Miura’s hard work justice in the eyes of most fans.

It’s a story that suggests anime is sometimes overrated, or at least unnecssary, from a combination of R-rated material to breathtaking art that doesn’t translate that well in anime form. Modern anime looks great, to be sure, but some art styles definitely lose something when animated, such as Berserk. Another seinen manga, One-Punch Man, also had an iffy anime that never surpassed the original manga, hard evidence that for all of modern anime’s greatness, it’s still kept in check by the best manga authors who create sublime art with black-and-white images on paper.

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