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.
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 feels—from 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.
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 skips—subsumed under the uncomfortable rotoscoping in general—amplify 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.
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 effect—not 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 (!).
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.
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.
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.