One of the many things that makes anime stand out among other forms of media is the sheer variety of art styles that exist within the medium. From the sharp lines of shonen and fluffiness of shojo, to the dark hues of sci-fi and the brightness of moe, anime entails an amazing variety of character designs and artistic elements to match anyone’s tastes. So what have I found about my tastes in terms of anime art styles…
I’m sure some of you have seen the below image on Wikipedia’s entry about anime, providing an example of the many different designs – and together with that, themes – that anime can have.
Astrogation’s post discusses more designs and is actually what inspired me to write this post. In the past eleven years that I’ve been an anime fan and have viewed a variety of series from a variety of genres with a variety of art styles, I’ve come to the conclusion that art style can be a factor for whether I’ll watch or enjoy an anime or not, but it’s not a major one.
What I mean by this is that I’m willing to watch an anime with an art style I’m not particularly fond of if I like other things about it, such as the story and characters. For example, the character designs for Death Note, Wolf’s Rain, or even One Piece aren’t my favorites, but I love everything else about these shows, enough for them to be among my top favorite anime of all. If I don’t know anything about an anime other than seeing a picture (and maybe a very vague summary), whether I like the art style or not will be a big deciding factor. But the more I know about a series, the less important the art/character designs become. Still, art style can be a big factor in how much I like an anime. For example, if I love the plot and characters and art style, that could boost the anime even higher in my rankings than with just the former two. If I don’t really like the plot and/or characters but love the art, I still might be able to enjoy the series depending on how extreme my feelings are for each element. However, if I like the story/characters but don’t like the art, I could still like and respect the anime but it probably wouldn’t become a huge favorite. It really depends on how strong my distaste for the art is versus how much I love other things about it. But I think there’s been very few, if any, anime where I feel the art is so hideous I won’t watch it no matter what. Likewise, it’s rare for me to want to watch an anime purely for art style while disliking everything else about it.
So now that I’ve discussed how important art style is in determining my enjoyment of anime, what art styles to I particularly like and dislike? As I mentioned, it’s very rare for me to downright hate any anime art style. I’m open to art as an expressive medium, even if it goes along with commercialism like anime does. And with that comes accepting a variety of styles and appreciating how the styles work together with the plot execution and characters to convey the respective story. With that said, character design is probably the most important thing to me in terms of an anime’s art, since characters more often than not are the main crux of the titles, what we’re looking at most often, and what makes us get so attached to anime. So if I had to pick anime character designs I’m not too fond of, it would be when they look too “realistic” and not “anime enough,” almost to the point where I might as well be looking at real actors/actresses than anime characters. An example of this style would be in Satoshi Kon’s works.
Characters from Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent
Not liking this art style doesn’t mean I won’t like the anime itself, especially in the case of Satoshi Kon where story and characters are great. I just won’t get as attached to them as I would if I loved the character designs. I’ve found that when anime tries to make its characters look too much like real people, they end up looking a bit ugly to me. Again, it doesn’t deter me from enjoying the anime, I just don’t get incredibly into it. Noir and Cowboy Bebop also have this type of character design, but the reason I like them better is because the main characters (the Noir girls and Bebop crew) are very anime-style even though minor/side/guest characters aren’t. So as long as the main characters we see the most of and are rooting for look good, I won’t have a problem ;)
Which leads to the type of anime character design that’s my favorite. I’ll start off by saying that one reason Kyoto Animation is my favorite studio is because most of their shows have the type of art I love in anime. Basically it’s a mix of realism and detail together with the standard anime character look (big eyes, detailed hair and clothes, etc.,). In KyoAni shows like Haruhi and Clannad, lots of detail is given to how the characters “exist” – the clothes they where each day, every strand of hair that moves, every tint of blush in their cheeks, tears in their eyes, sweat on their face (not the cartoony anime sweat drops), puffs of smoke above their mouths when it’s winter – but despite this lush realism, they still have the large, expressive-eyed anime look we know and love (I could go on about how KyoAni are masters of atmosphere and promo art but that’s a post for another day). So I guess my favorite type of anime art style would be when the characters are animated realistically but still look like anime characters…in a way, what I love is when the characters are designed as “cartoon individuals” rather than “cartoon characters” if that makes sense. Besides KyoAni, I also love the character designs for OreImou, Shakugan no Shana, Angel Beats!, and CLAMP works to name a few.
From the Haruhi 2010 calendar – KyoAni art at its finest~
To conclude, although I have anime art styles that I like and dislike, I like more of them than not and am open to watching all kinds. Not liking an art style could deter how much I’ll grow to love a title but it won’t necessarily hinder my appreciation of it. I am a sucker for art I love though and could grow to love even a mediocre anime if I love the art style. Such a variety of styles is one of many things that make anime so great ^^