The Beauty And Tyranny Of Aesthetics In Anime

Mishima Reika - RahxephonFor the last eight years that I have been into the Japanese visual subculture of anime,manga, video games, etc – they have proven themselves to be viable forms of media for not only showcasing  the prowess of their animation and aesthetics, but also the ability to weave in compelling and exciting narratives alongside them. And as much as I enjoy being introduced to vivid and wonderful worlds with the narrative to support it, sometimes it is just as nice to bask in the artistic medium as it is and other times, wonder why some series go as far as they do with producing overwhelming beauty. It is true that these niceties do help enhance and bring out a deeper quality of storytelling, but at the same time, some series are better off without them…

In recent memory, Fate/Zero had to be one of the toughest if not dreadful shows I watched over the last past year.  Genuinely interested at first to see how the events of Zero lead into the franchise, I was soon dismayed with all the grandiosity and posturing that took place in order just to get halfway through the story. It was not overtly boring narrative wise, but the sheer ambitious quality that was put into its aesthetics and beauty was. It lost its allure. I can appreciate series that try to bring more to the traditional animation storytelling table, but Fate/Zero among other series such as: Melody of Oblivion and Neon Genesis (to an extent) have this chronic illness of allowing their cultural references and painted surrealism become to overbearing and thus, making for a very tedious story. However, on the flip side, their are plenty of series that I have seen and watched time and time again, that actually very effective and stylish – letting their visual qualities speak for them when sometimes mere writing and rhetoric can not.

Noir, as one specific and perfect example is a series that no matter how many times I revisit it, it continues to impress me and leave a positive response in mind. While it is quite callous when it comes to death and displays too much superficial firearm action, it is surprisingly grounded in when comes to the concepts such as morality, mortality, and more importantly, just makes use of its artistic strengths to be so much more attractive. Examples of this would have to be in episodes 03, 06, and 11 – which are favorites of mine just to name a few. Besides that, the music itself, excellently composed by Yuki Kajiura just brings out the narrative in more pleasurable ways than possible. The atmosphere on-screen and my own viewing experience, I can say benefits from it. It is something that you rather have to see for yourself – experience for yourself than to quantify like I am now.  Although, with those subtitle yuri undertones, my judgement maybe slightly positively predisposed. Kidding aside, it really does illicit different feelings through every viewing session.

Noir - promotional image

Noir – Newstype Promo Artwork

For a more concrete example, I like how RahXephon really delves in deep, using its technical beauty to really be apart of the story than just for eye-candy. Since of the show deals with mostly cultural references from the dawn of exploration – it meshes well with its protagonist, Ayato Kamina – a young man trying to find his place in the world and a world that seems just as disorderly as it is dream like. Touching on concepts such as: “retuning”, a concept in music and the Surrealist school of thought, the series so gingerly touches on the bigger core of the issues to the viewer without actually reveling it outright. In addition to that, the animation itself really matches story content: with a world that seems unyielding and chaotic one moment, but simply sublime the next. Just like the painting Ayato fashioned in the introductory episode. Simply put: It was impressive and elegant without being impressive to be elegant. If you don’t know what I mean by that: look it up.

Temple Of Xephon - RahXephon

Temple Of Xephon – RahXephon

Of course, this not a post to bash Fate/Zero or uplift any other series. Not in the sightless – since their was many things I like about Zero and downright hated about the other two (trust me, Noir gets somewhat boring go into the climax, despite the style). This is just to illustrate – from one fan perspective (that’s me) how something as simple as aesthetic placement and visual  artistic design can be a bigger deal far beyond the usual way we think of it. I am not even entirely what prompted me to even begin this post, but in doing so, it just revealed one more intangible piece of enjoyment/displeasure I get out of anime as not only a viewer – but so-called “devoted fan”. I am sure if you think about yourself, you find some of the same qualities that you admire/abhorred in your own viewing experiences.

6 thoughts on “The Beauty And Tyranny Of Aesthetics In Anime

  1. Unfortunately I have no experience with the above mentioned anime, but I believe aesthetics do play an important role in creating a setting in anime. For example, the slice-of-life genre. GJ-bu might have good visuals to some but lack any atmosphere as it is similar to K-ON in the school club setting. Thus, I found it to be not as interesting than say, Hanasaku Iroha or Aria for having similar slice-of-life themes, yet different settings that create an entirely new atmosphere that set it apart from regular slice-of-life.

    • Sorry for the semi late reply. Was in a seminar all day.

      If you like Fate/Stay night or interested in the series remotely, that is the only reason to watch it. I wouldn’t be too concerned over it. I seen GJ-bu (halted it at the 1st episode), but compared to Hanasaku Iroha and Aria the atmosphere is completely on different levels from what I seen. In some cases, it is much as writing as it is the visuals that are responsible for making up the atmosphere..and the viewers own perspective. I remember watching K-ON and it making feel somewhat lazy, lol.

      On the other hand, Tamayura (which is also slice-of-life title and a good one at) has very neutral colors and shades, but feels so relaxing when you watch. I can not exactly explain it – yet it has this rustic ambience that captures what slice-of-titles should be about. Suggest watching it if you haven’t.

      Thanks for reading :3

      • No worries, I have problems keeping up with comments :S

        I still need to finish Fate/Zero first before I hit Fate Stay/Night. I heard great things about the series. Regarding writing being as important as the visuals, I agree that writing does have a big factor when similar atmospheres are being compared. For example, K-ON has a better premise of there being a goal to get to Budokan whereas GJ-bu lacks one completely. K-ON still wasn’t that spectacular to warrant extra seasons and movies even, imo. >_>

        Tamayura was a good one in the color tones. Still haven’t finished it and on my year long backlog. ^_^” Now that you say it, color tones also play a big part, no? Compare that to something like Hidamari. The color tones are vastly different from regular slice-of-life anime. Warm and vibrant, easy on the eyes.

        • I agreed, but in the case of K-ON, that was mostly attributed to its fanbase. I am considering giving GJ-bu another take this week, since I finished some other series I wanted to clear. Might leave a better impression.

          Good point. Hidamari was full of warm colors and gave of a similar atmosphere. Still need to watch × Honeycomb. A few slice-of-life series have that effect, however, in the case of something like Sketchbook full Color’S, it was nearly too boring during the beginning, but got to feel more relaxing. The art is definitely unique.

  2. Didn’t watch any of shows you mentioned except for Fate/Zero. I honestly do not think Fate/Zero’s ambitious visuals are overbearing. It improves on the standard animations to the very maximum level, tight frames, fluid movements and even 3D animations (which is a technology anime are applying more nowadays). It managed to show visual improvements compared to the previous Fate/Stay Night despite the latter already being quite visually good. What do you think of the aesthetics of anime like Nisemonogatari? That’s incredibly flashy, in more ways then one..

    • I agree with you on most of it, but the maximum of standards could of been kept to a minimum for me. The atmosphere of the series just felt “heavy” as it was, so the animation did it no favors, but that is my opinion. It is more of feeling than something I can easily quantify. As for Nisemonogatari, that was another series that came to mind, but for some reason, I found it more palatable than unbearable and flashy. By comparison, the animation seemed far more “lighter” and gingerly. Makes watching the series a joy. But again, that is my opinion.

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