Is “Cheap” Anime Still Anime?

Is there a kind of nobility in creating anime inexpensively? That’s the question I want to throw out there.

Anime about anime, such as the recent SHIROBAKO portray the world of anime production as one of sleepless nights, retakes, and thousands of complications, where passion and desperation reign supreme, especially because the amount of money traditionally thrown around in Japanese animation is not as high as one sees in Western animations. The amount of work an animator has to put in to create even one minute’s worth of material is not to be underestimated, and yet anime is still often decried as “cheap.”

Hayao Miyazaki himself has talked about the grueling schedules that have been a part of Japanese animation since nearly the beginning, owing to the influence of Osamu Tezuka. However, what makes all of this rather tricky is that creators have found a variety of ways to work within or around lower budgets through sheer creativity, talent, and effort. Whether it’s the famous elevator scenes from Neon Genesis Evangelion where nothing moves, the fancy patterned backgrounds of a SHAFT anime such as Bakemonogatari, or the dynamic work of legendary animator Yoshinori Kanada, who showed the world how individual poses can give the feeling of dynamic animation even when there simply aren’t as many frames, creators have done more with less.

In recent years, technology has become a factor too with the rise of alternative, “efficient” (some might say cheap) methods for creating anime. Flash for example has become a valuable tool, and the increase in series with short episodes (10 minutes or less per episode) show how ideas can be put out quickly and efficiently. Case in point is a series like Wooser’s Hand to Mouth Life, which combines these two qualities together. Another series that works within the confines of a tight budget is gdgd Fairies, another bizarre comedy that’s done entirely in Miku Miku Dance, a free 3-D program that was originally just a way to animate Hatsune Miku models.

The idea of the low-budget anime has arguably reached its apex with Inferno Cop (seen above), an… eccentric… work from the minds of Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia) that was literally created with the idea that the studio would not spend more than two hours per week on it. It literally looks like digital cutouts where “animation” amounts to stock explosions and character portraits sliding back and forth in an almost Ed Wood-esque fashion. And yet, as was clear from Anime NEXT 2015, Inferno Cop is beloved, embraced for its animation (or lack thereof) and how it represents an almost stream-of-consciousness output from the popular animation studio.

What do you think of this direction, the efficient production method that sacrifices arguably some of the textural qualities of anime? Has SCIENCE GONE TOO FAR, or is it just a different avenue for expression and creativity, something that has to be embraced while being cognizant of the fact that money will always be a factor on some level?

Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese popular culture convention located in Brooklyn, NY that will combine anime, fashion, food, and more. Why not take a look?

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