How many Dragonball Z characters does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, but it takes him 20 episodes. I wrote before about when I was younger how anime revolutionized the way I looked at story telling. Sequential plot lines? Stories building from previously laid ground work culminating into an epic climax? Sign me up! Every Sunday morning I would catch an episode of DBZ. At this point, the 291 episode show had long been finished in Japan. Sadly, only about the first 40 or so episodes had been dubbed. I knew the exact point the narrative ended, hoping next week we’d see the next episode only to be let down and shown the first episode again.
Years later when Cartoon Network gained the rights and announced new episodes, I flipped. Every day I tuned in to find out what would happen. How would Goku defeat Freeza? The show went on and on until it finally aired all the episodes some 4-5 years later. Out of nostalgia, I’ve tried to go back and watch the show again, finding it all but impossible. How did I put up with this over wrought pacing?
When you’re watching it for the first time, and only get one episode a day, I suppose you don’t really notice. Watching many different animes though, I’ve discovered the tricks they use to stretch out their budget. Every one of them drives me up the wall making it impossible for me to watch almost any of it. I’ll dissect Naruto here since it is incredibly popular right now and one of the biggest culprits.
Many different animations studios try to animate as little as possible, while simultaneously reusing as many assets as they can. Taken any 3-4 episodes, notice how approximately the first 5 minutes of an episode is the last 5 minutes of the previous one? Lazy. How often is a character speaking without being seen? I’ve listened to many interviews with voice over actors. Their performances are amazing considering the hurdles they have. They try to enunciate the words in the shape of the characters mouth. When they have a line tagged with MNS (mouth not seen), it is a huge relief for them. All too often we see a still or breathing shot of another character while the speaker isn’t seen. Or better yet a panning image of flowers or water. Here’s a litmus test to see if an animation uses it’s medium properly, mute the volume. If you can get a story from the actions on screen, they’re doing it right. If it seems like you’re watching a slide show, I suggest you find a different program.
The last two things Naruto (and again, many others) do is first, flashing back to events from the same episode. This is just insulting and reuse of assets at it finest. The second is filler episodes. Many if not all anime is based off of some source material (manga – comic). When the show is catching up to the weekly publication, they need to slow things down. To achieve this, they have filler episodes. Original adventures where nothing substantial can happen because they don’t know what’s coming up in the source. Naruto at one point had 100 filler episodes. 100.
In the interest of length I’ll end the discussion there, though I’ll probably revisit it in the future. Comments, questions, or suggestions? Comment below!