On rotoscoping, subtler details, and Aku no Hana

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_06.55_[2013.04.05_18.12.13][gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_10.41_[2013.04.05_18.18.58][gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_12.39_[2013.04.05_18.21.14][gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_17.46_[2013.04.05_18.28.53]

Now here’s a show bound to garner a mixed reception: controversial implementations of rotoscoping, one of the slowest paced premieres in all of anime, terribly eerie music, minimal characterization, and very very few occurring events. Given the anime community’s drawn attention (no pun intended) towards the rotoscoping, I’ll be addressing this issue here.

Umm.. something seems off here.

Something seems…off.

The promise of rotoscoping is to offer stronger realism towards the atmosphere by adding nuanced details to facial patterns, body proportions, subtler body language cues, and general center of gravity movements. However, this does not always work as intended. When the first scene of the premiere rolls out, a common feeling immediately surfaces among everyone—pure shock.

A glance at the above picture already notes many problems with its implementation: gawky body proportions, botched facial detailing, and atrocious integration with the background artwork. Also note how many more specifics are offered to Saeki’s clothing than her actual body. The resultant effect is the opposite of rotoscoping’s intent; the only thing we notice here (in one of the more important scenes in the episode, mind you) is how jarring everything feelsfrom the sumptuous scenery contrasting the basic facial features which in turn contrasts the detailed clothing. This reeks of a terribly mismanaged budget, as Zexcs fails to have prioritized the more important features (i.e., the face), whereas ‘uploading’ the clothing details likely was much easier to trace over.

Note the contrasting detail among the left two and the first two. How inconsistent!

Note the contrasting detail among the left two and the first two. How inconsistent!

The skippy frames are another common criticism. This causes a discrete jump among different moving body parts, which results in a gangling distortion of moving limbs and which reeks of an appalling implementation. Any potential immersion is lost—taken aback by such loud features that it’s difficult to not notice the crude animation stumble over its own feet.

However, there’s a certain silver lining. It turns out (whether unintentionally or not; I’m not one to care about pre-interview drama) that these flaws mark the show with a distinguished flair. In fact, the jarring frame skipssubsumed under the uncomfortable rotoscoping in generalamplify Aku no Hana‘s disillusioning atmosphere. It goes so far as to alienate viewers, leaving them in a perpetually agitated state and impartial to the surrounding events. Intuitively, this may seem like a bit of a stretch (and perhaps not even a good thing!), but it turns out that this interpretation is simply commonplace in other rotoscoped anime.

Trapeze 03

Considering a show like Kuuchuu Buranko, the work too offered some awkward frame issues in relation to its experimental style. And there it worked because the jarring frame skips ironically complemented the psychedelic artwork to begin with; it kept viewers off the balls of their feet and wholly engrossed into the show’s eccentric nature. Would it not be the same here? After all, the “ugliness” in rotoscoping is an aftereffect of its goal to enhance the realism, and criticisms based merely on how “ugly” everything looks (or more accurately, how the character artwork is “ugly”) couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’re not watching a moe or ecchi show guys; fan pandering is not even close to one of Aku no Hana‘s objectives. This only spells out how terribly superficial the viewer base is, as the “ugliness” in the artwork keeps a firmer grasp onto the realism in effectnot glossing over and romanticizing characters’ looks for needless idolatry. This is in fact one of the very messages that Aku no Hana’s themes address (!).

Me thinks it works here.

Me thinks it works in this shot.

Let’s continue with the positives. The use of rotoscoping attests to Aku no Hana‘s design as first and foremost a character-driven piece, due to the subtler uses of body language that typical animation cannot always achieve. This is especially to the degree that moving body parts (even in the backgrounds) are dynamically set in motion rather than static. Typical animation doesn’t even come close to this level of detail. Moreover, the jarring fluidity between the characters and the background details keeps you wholly fixed on the characters themselves, not only adding to the distressing mood but fixating one’s viewpoint towards the characters and their very actions. This keeps otherwise soporific events so immersible into the setting, allowing one to concentrate tightly onto the characters.

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_16.09_[2013.04.05_19.21.33]

Note the finer details in this shot.

Note the finer details in this shot.

Take this scene, where a friend takes Kasuga’s copy of Les Fleurs du Mal from his desk, and Kasuga tries to get it back whilst his friend dallies around like an idiot, mocking him about reading “pretentious” literature and grumbling nonsensically about the front cover (oh don’t we all?). His idiot friend dolts around like a typical high school buddy, while Kasuga reaches his hand out to take it back. Note the subtler details, the illusive body language motions that keep a mundane event so vividly captured. These are the scenes where the rotoscoping makes a palpable impression, as all the subtler actions engross you into the narrative.

Uhh, I still think you're missing facial features in contrast to your hair detailing.

Uhh, you’re still missing facial details in contrast to your hair.

But again, the very drawbacks of rotoscoping (and its implementations here) contrast the realism defense. So the overall result is mixed. While one can indeed protest some of its more terrible integration, the overall rotoscoping effect too adds to the more nuanced atmosphere in the work, especially testifying to the infused realism shots complementing otherwise mundane actions. Time will only tell how well it’s integrated in future episodes, but in this one, the rotoscoping is done far better than most give credit.

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5 comments

  1. […] nil has written a post on Aku no Hana’s rotoscope. I highly suggest reading it, here. […]

  2. Jakracer · · Reply

    “But again, the very drawbacks of rotoscoping (and its implementations here) contrast the realism defense” What i am looking at does not in any way look realistic.I’m fine with new/more anime styles being used but this just looks like smudgy crap.The characters happen to look retarded as well and i do in fact mean that literally.They actually look metnally retarded and unable to control their facial expressions or they just make weird facial expressions because they are weird.You then talk about realistic details yet they do not exist.Not only do realistic details not exist i would say detail at ALL does not exist.However the image with the pink nurse actually does have detail.It looks good.It doesn’t look unsettling but it looks good.IMO also the anime your talking about doesn’t look unsettling.It to me simply looks dumb.Dumb as in stupid.Because it literally actually truly makes every character look dumb.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I enjoy some good discussion. However, I’m not exactly sure what you mean. You only go so far as to say that the details are lacking, and that the characters “look retarded”. I agree that there is certainly a level of uncanny valley going on, but you should support your assertions more than general visual cues. Perhaps consider the fluid actions not within the visuals alone, but with, say, how well the voice acting is integrated with the lip syncing (spoiler: they’re actually not that great; a minor complaint I have with most anime series these days) and how realistic the body parts move aroudn (which is really really good).

      On Kuuchuu Buranko over Aku no Hana, I actually believe the opposite. I would go so far as to say that Mayumi (the nurse) looks even worse than the characters in Aku no Hana. Take a frame by frame comparison of Mayumi compared to Aku no Hana characters, and AnH will always win, particularly with the lighting effects and closer body proportions (eww @ Mayumi’s nose). However, Kuuchu Buranko’s artwork is done more or less intentionally, with a haphazardly fixed rainbow as its color palette. So overal, the whole picture looks plain awful (in an intentional way), whereas Aku no Hana amps up the uncanny valley by forcing a stark contrast between ultra-finite realism (in the backgrounds) and fudgy character designs (in the foregrounds). The result is, well, shocking at times.

  3. Very nice information. I am looking this kind of blog. Please keep updating..I am going to bookmarking your blog.

  4. […] nil has written a post on Aku no Hana’s rotoscope. I highly suggest reading it, here. […]

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