‘Cheapness’ and Studios in anime discussion

Anime discussion can be pretty wild. Online or offline there’s a wide amount of ‘knowledge’ that can be taken for granted. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. However, when people are trying to meaningfully express their thoughts and feelings on media they tend to use techniques that they’ve seen others use. When these techniques are flawed, either by being simply untrue or less relevant than the user intended, it can mess with getting a good grasp on the media in question. This week I’m going to talk about a couple of things that tend to be brought up in anime discussion that tend to be flawed. This isn’t to say anyone using these is necessarily wrong, anime production is not uniform by any means, nor is this to say anyone using these is a fool. I am just trying to help people have a slightly better understanding on how anime production works. Most of what I’ve learnt here I’ve learnt from @ultimatemegax, @Yuyucow and @B0bduh, who are all much greater writers and far more knowledgeable about various parts of anime and media discussion than myself.

  1. Budget and ‘cheapness’

A common thing to call out in anime discussion is how the Studio used it’s budget. Whenever an anime has aspects which most people believe looks bad or out of place they reason out that it looks bad because it’s ‘cheap’ and thus the anime ran out of or misplaced their budget (Conversely, occasionally when people find a scene particularly good looking they attribute this to High Budgets). This kind of ‘common sense’ thinking comes from some implicit beliefs on what makes anime good. Throwing more money at a thing should make it better. This is the same kind of thinking that leads people to thinking name brand paracetamol is more effective than Tesco’s own. The more expensive a thing is, the better it must be.

We don’t tend to be told where and why production issues in anime come about. We may see signs suggesting they are happening – more animation directors or missing inbetweens and off model shots for example – but what exactly causes them we aren’t privy to. What we do know is that most of the cost in making an anime tends to be accounted for long before the first episode of a show airs. Similarly, we also know that there are strict deadlines in anime production as animation and airing tend to happen simultaneously. And we also know every episode of anime needs to have a key animator working on every cut, and they are going to need paying. Together this suggests that if something does go wrong, and it inevitably will, that there are heavy time restrictions on fixing it. The episode needs to air at it’s air time. That is the biggest restriction on anime production. If there genuinely has been production issues time and talented staff tend to be the lacking factor, not money.

If there hasn’t been production issues than the money criticism still doesn’t always hold weight. Sometimes what someone is calling cheap or bad is just an artistic decision. An art style they do not like, animation that does not appeal to them, or other things. Even a low budget show can be pleasing! A complaint over cheapness (or a compliment on expensiveness) is far more than a hot-take on the relative budget of a show, it’s a take on the show’s ‘quality’ in and of itself. In those instances there’s lots of other ways you can compliment it. Perhaps you really like the art style or art direction? The character animation? Or perhaps there is some wonderful debris and explosions. The point is here that making wild claims about budget aren’t going to convey what exactly your issue is with it. Anime, even lower budget ones, aren’t cheap.

  1. This Studio is bad

Sometimes when talking about anime it’s studio comes up. With certain studios people assert that the studio is bad. The anime made by that studio are all bad and all will be bad. Why exactly they’re bad differs from instance to instance: having a wildly thought of bad adaptation of a popular source, or having done certain kinds of shows that are looked down on in the community in question are probably the most popular reasons why these studios are ‘bad’, but really the ‘why’ in this case isn’t important. What matters is ‘Studio X is bad, therefore anime produced by Studio X is also/going to be bad.’.

There are a couple of reasons why some communities hold this to be true. The first being that studios are an easy thing for the English speaking communities to talk about. Their names are readily available, as are every anime they’ve produced, and many they’ve worked on, easy to find on websites like MAL and ANN. It is really easy to look at a studio’s list of shows, see some names of ‘bad’ shows and just go “wow this studio sucks.”. Similarly, when someone hears someone declare “Studio X is bad because they’ve done A, B and C.” and it takes off in the community it’s near impossible to change their minds. They have good reason for thinking that! When an influential community just decides that a Studio is bad it can very well stick around forever, way beyond when, if it ever was, accurate.

Anime production is a group effort. This is true both in the sense it takes a large number of different staff to create even one episode of a TV airing show, and in the sense that animation is rarely ever done entirely in-house by a single studio. The vast majority of work on a show tends to be done by freelancers – who are also most likely to be juggling work with other studios and shows – and by staff at other studios. There are significant exceptions to this rule, Kyoto Animation for example, but for the most part this holds true. So whilst yes you can look at a studio’s shows and decide they’re bad, the staff involved in the show – the staff responsible for whatever you dislike about it – might not even be the studio’s staff! Or, even if they are part of the studio in question, they may not be involved in other shows by the studio. Yeah, Akiyuki Shinbou is on basically everything by Shaft at the moment, but the same can’t be said for other studio’s and their well known directors. The core staff working on a show are responsible for more or less everything about the show. The staff involved know other people who they can then call in to see if they’ll work on the show. Those important relations are what matter more when looking at a show than what ever studio is the main power behind the show. It isn’t the fact One Punch Man is a Madhouse show that let it have such brilliant and creative fight scenes. It’s the fact Natsume Shingo is a well respected animator and director who has worked with many brilliant animators in the past. Him doing work for Madhouse you can look at as being a strength of Madhouse, and the staff of a studio can very well be considered part of their strengths, but nothing is stopping a ‘bad’ studio hiring great directors, animators, and writers as part of a new show.

III. Conclusion

Anime production is complex. I haven’t even mentioned production committees and those kinda were the reason I wanted to write this (because disc sales mean fuck all about whether a show ‘succeeded’ or not 99% of the time). But as a quick summary, anime is always expensive and it’s often more a case of time and talent that can cause ‘cheap’ looking anime. You’re better off trying to target what about it made you feel it was cheap in order to properly convey your viewpoint. Studios also mean very little outside of the staff involved in each production. Every studio works different in some respect, and every anime produced by a studio can also work differently to other anime by that studio.

(If I any of my information is strictly wrong I apologize and am happy to be corrected. As far as I’m aware most of this information works in general, though particular circumstance will always vary it.)

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