The grip of CGI in anime is both a great thing and a terrible thing…
CGI is becoming a common gripe of the standard anime fan, whether they’ve seen only shows from 2017 or shows from all over the temporal joint. However, it is getting easier to tell that the graphics are getting better as the technology behind the CGI becomes better.
Of course, there are animators who make their works partially on the computer and you’d assume the show wasn’t CGI. CGI stands for “computer-generated imagery”, after all, so let’s establish that what I mean by CGI in this article is the 3D sort – the janky sort that completely put me off Alice to Zouroku after one episode and gave a big strike against Tsukigakirei.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the year first, and talk about Kemono Friends. From a Western perspective, people laughed it off as a kids’ show and left it alone. Conversely, it became a huge hit in its native Japan…in part due to the unique look of the CGI. Even though people still found it off-putting, the rarity of CGI made the show endearing in a sense.
Jump to the next season, and you have Seikaisuru Kado. From what I’ve learnt in articles, Kado owes its unique look to three different types of software – Houdini, Maya and Unity. The effect was 2017’s first real breath of fresh air in regards to CGI – something that could not be replicated in 2D styling using normal anime-producing constraints. It was something otherworldly without reaching outside the bounds of the earth. Apparently, Kado was preceded by Expelled From Paradise/Rakuen Tsuihou from the same studio, so Toei kind of knew what they were doing too.
However, people were still turned off by this look. Add that to the fact the aforementioned Alice to Zouroku and Tsukigakirei were in the same season, and it’s pretty obvious people were still not sold on CGI.
Notably, a lot of the more questionable CGI use in these two seasons was on living things, specifically people…
Summer brought Frame Arms Girl, another skippable choice which deterred people from the CGI scene. Also in the season was Chronos Ruler, which was mostly forgettable but its CGI was used in a way that was visually striking, so at least not everything was a failure in this season.
It’s fall now, and look at where we are.
Juuni Taisen came out, and no one was really offended by it! In fact, the show uses CGI in its OP and some of its climactic battles to an effect that seems more natural than the shows before it. The fact it’s fluid enough to make battles smooth proves how far CGI has come since people first started to gripe about it.
Then there’s (arguably) the crowning series of CGI this year, Houseki no Kuni. Again, this series takes the lesson from Kado and applies it to the gem people and the snail people to create something 2D has only tried to replicate. In fact, Houseki no Kuni was attempted in 2D in a promotional video, only to be supplanted by the 3D version this year…
Notably, both of these shows were handled by studios that handled 3D as their forte (Graphinica and Orange respectively), so there’s more knowledge behind those two examples than most shows would like to admit, but there is progress behind the CGI all the same.
Even though it seems the use of CGI isn’t slowing down, the future looks bright for it. Then again, we can only evaluate the use of 2018’s CGI when it’s actually on our screens, so why not we just wait for it to come to us?