2020/12/01

A Dying Art

Patlabor 2

Mamoru Oshii, the venerable director of animated film classics Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor, explains why the feature-length 2D animated film is becoming a dying art.

“Making anime is also the world of the artisan,” Oshii explained. “I’m the kind who wants do my own part 120 per cent with perfection, but because if I’m allowed to do that, the whole work will head towards ruin, so I think 90 per cent is OK.” Meaning? Oshii pushes himself hard to make the best work he can within whatever constraints there are.

“However,” Oshii continued, “the number of people within this country able to work with such high precision is less than five per cent. The younger generation is more individualistic, and while the world appreciates how good their art has become, they’re unable to do exhausting work like their older predecessors. The biggest reason why I’ve stopped making anime is because the people who I can do [anime] with are disappearing.”

Oshii added that if you look at all the artisans working in the anime industry, the older type of animator he wants to work with are nearly gone.

Chalk it up to the general decline in human intelligence, a case of prosperous times creating weak men, or encroaching Western cultural hegemony; they don't make anime like they used to because they are simply disappearing.

Score one more for the doomsayers who've been warning of cultural decline. Some may dismiss the loss of 2D cartoon movies as insignificant, but the inability to maintain a level of art practiced by prior generations is a widely acknowledged sign of a dark age.

I'd add the prevalence of people who don't see the relationship between art and practical matters as another dead canary in the coal mine.

Today animators lose the ability to replicate Ghost in the Shell. Tomorrow we forget how airplanes work.

The Death Cult's undoing may well come when the measures they used to achieve total control leave them with nothing worth ruling.


Amazing! A must-read for mecha anime fans

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

28 comments:

  1. "The Death Cult's undoing may well come when the measures they used to achieve total control leave them with nothing worth ruling."

    Indeed:

    https://www.brianniemeier.com/2020/11/if-it-walks-like-it-and-talks-like-it.html

    P.S. Finished XSeed S. I really enjoyed this one. Part of why I think is because it seemed the Angels were a case of adults saving the day as opposed to teenagers which I realize is pretty standard for mech lit.

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    1. Most astute of you! With S, I wanted to tell a story of professional soldiers executing their duty against daunting opposition.

      Thus, I'm delighted you enjoyed the book. I hope you'll leave an Amazon review.

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  2. My apologies. I meant link this: https://youtu.be/J7KDf0Js9zY

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  3. What cannot be known from our low vantage point is, is this a downturn in the mould of a thousand others in the dynamic equilibrium of small disasters and brief glories, or part of a stepwise decline that reaches particular, sometimes civilization-ending, lows.

    Worth noting, and you will doubtless see the connection, part of the reason the new equal of those animators hasn't been born, is because the preponderance of the contemporary generation was likewise not born.

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  4. The one thing that really stuck out at me about what Oshii-san said,- "they’re unable to do exhausting work like their older predecessors" - was the presence of talent but the absence of dedication. Cell animation, as I understand it, requires incredible attention to detail and enormous amounts of time, particularly to produce the kind of detailed, beautiful animation I associate with anime. Western animation is simplistic and ugly by comparison. But if Japanese animators are no longer willing or able to do the work that makes anime what it is, they will have nothing that sets them apart from their Western competitors

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    1. Precisely. The next question is, Why can't the current generation do the work?

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  5. We're seeing this across the board, in STEM, education, industrial production, government, and utilities. My metric is to look at the increase in the percentage of people with degrees/certifications/awards in that field today vice those recipients from 20, 40, or 60 years ago. If these percentages are increasing, the general skill level of the field tends to be on the decline.

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    1. An excellent point. The common misconception that more people getting degrees reflects a general rise in intelligence is akin to thinking that joining the NBA makes people taller.

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    2. I think the underlying assumption is that those degrees mean what they once meant and require the intelligence and accomplishment they once did. The academy is as hollow as our leverage-driven economy

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  6. Reminds me of that farmer who talked about the kind of people who are able to pick strawberries. Picking strawberries is backbreaking work that you have to do while bent over or on your knees. He said that most white people can't do it. He said that he'll have them bring in prisoners to pick, and even they only last a few days. The only people who can do it are the Mexicans, because they still value dedication and tenacity, and teach it in their culture. Seems this also extends to other forms of backbreaking work, like cell animation.

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  7. The reason they can't make 2D mecha is because no one in the anime industry knows how to animate them anymore. It's a sign of decline that they've forgotten so much over such a short period of time. All the poor CG you see in anime is literally a crutch. No one really likes it, but it can easily be used to fill production holes.

    While Bones, UFOtable, and MAPPA continue to knock it out of the park, most of the other studios haven't been keeping up. Madhouse barely exists anymore, Gainax is a glorified brand name, and Sunrise hasn't really been relevant outside of Gundam since the early '00s.

    I tend to think a lot of this is that miasma of post-80s pessimism and hopelessness that refuses to part.

    Why else would whole swaths of weebs be more interested in "comfy" shows about nothing with no real point instead of the imaginative space operas and action series they used to champion? Modern weebs call those shows for normies, but those series are actually why they even enjoy the medium to begin with. It's a lack of imagination and hope that causes people to champion the mundane over the wonderous.

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    1. JD

      A very interesting analysis. From your perspective do the lack of hope and imagination partly explain the decline of cell animation? The conceit whereby nothing lasts: nothing matter discourages artists from committing and persisting?

      xavier

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    2. Shades of that recent article by the guy who claims there's no decline in mecha anime. He cites booming sales figures to prove it. His mistake is assuming a 1:1 relationship between sales and quality.

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  8. You look at the pay rates for animators in Japan and it isn't surprising that following generations didn't want to pull the insane amount of hours while working for peanuts.

    I'd be interested to know how many of those potential animators chose other creative fields.

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  9. Americans can pick fruit. They just don't want to at the current levels of compensation.

    The Japanese could almost certainly bring back and re-invigorate their hand made animation, but they'd have to compensate animators more highly, and why bother when you can use CG? It might be better, but probably not enough to justify the cost.

    Beside, what are all those potential animators actually doing? Maybe some are doing things that did't even exist when Mamoru Oshii was young, such as making video games. Perhaps, we'll lose 'Ghost in the Shell', but gain mosquito killing lasers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqKafI7Amd8) and other wonders.

    Maybe, we won't lose much of anything, in terms of animation quality, as convolutional neural nets, or some other A.I technology, will be creating equal, or better, animation (current CG might be the Model T of computer animation). I can imagine smart and capable young Japanese people avoiding this line of work just to avoid the obvious competitive threat coming from such technology in the near future (but with enough money you could probably tempt them).

    The end of scriptoriums was, I believe, in some ways a loss - some of the Bibles and other manuscripts they produced are breathtakingly beautiful - but that doesn't mean the printing press was all bad, and clearly they could have kept scriptoriums going, if they had really wanted to, but nobody (as far as I know) did. Not because they were nihilists, philistines, or evil, but because printed books gave them enough of what they needed, and they thought it was better to spend the savings on something else.

    Of course, none of this means culture, morals, and our civilisation are not in decline, just that there are other, fairly reasonable, explanation of what is going on with Japanese animation (and American fruit picking).

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    1. Fruit picker wages were artificially depressed by big business and big government bringing in millions of third world peasants. Nobody got a vote on it.

      Considering the talk that's been coming out of the Japanese government lately, I suspect a similar dynamic at work in anime.

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    2. Yes, immigration is a huge factor in fruit picking wages.

      What has the Japanese government been doing?

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    3. Calling for a major increase in immigration to Japan.

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    4. I wonder what the numbers on the ground are and if they are replacing the Japanese, possibly as an inferior substitute, in animation. If they are impacting the general labour market, but not impacting animation, then that should make animation more economically attractive to the Japanese. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how immigration affects Japan and how the Japanese react to the changes.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/business/japan-old-companies.html, relates to the ideas in your post.

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    5. I'd be interested to know if Korean animators have been serving as cheap animation sources for Japanese cartoons like they have been doing for American cartoons for years. I haven't been paying attention to the animation space for some years.

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  10. "Perhaps, we'll lose 'Ghost in the Shell', but gain mosquito killing lasers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqKafI7Amd8) and other wonders."

    Ah. The miserable failure of mosquito-killing lasers and AI programming that is somehow 'creative' like Autotune and Beat Detective. So, a Lose-Lose condition for Humanity. Well, definitely worth it then.

    [facepalm]

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    1. Based on the ragged sentence construction, it might also be Tay Junior.

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    2. "actualbugmantalk.txt"

      I'm not sure I entirely get the reference, and I'm obviously the target, but even still I appreciate the humour. Well played.

      "mosquito-killing lasers and AI programming that is somehow 'creative'"

      It is not about any specific technology, nor claims about any technology being inherently creative.

      But, if, lacking imagination, you want to focus on such details, then I shall point out that if you think that other people looking for ingenious ways to kill a deadly pest, with lasers no less, is a sign of the human condition failing, then you might not have the fine appreciation for humanity and its condition that you think you do. Some might even think your lack of wonder at such attempts and evident poor grasp of man and his battles in this vale of tears as an example of a miserable failure to be a man.

      "Based on the ragged sentence construction, it might also be Tay Junior."

      I don't know who that is, and after seeing you refer to another person as 'it', I'll choose to ignore your advice on either writing or humanity.

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  11. Reminds me of a quote from Metro Last Light.

    "Our children barely know the outside world and the knowledge to keep the Metro running. Our grandchildren will think the Metro was built by the gods."

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    1. Meanwhile, the UK has announced their first tube train crewed entirely by sodomites, to much fanfare.

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  12. GiTS and Secret of NIMH are my two favorite movies.

    You never see those hand drawn, Don Bluth-level backgrounds in anything except in a few animes nowadays, and even then, who knows how much computer assistance are involved with those.

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