It’s been a little while since I did my last editorial so it’s time to finally get back with it. I’ve had this one in drafts for a bit. Animation is certainly a critical aspect for any show you’re watching. You can have the world’s best script but if the animation is terrible or sub par then it’s going to hurt the product. Likewise if an anime has stellar animation then even if the story and such isn’t great it can at least be visually exciting to watch. Some anime know how to make what would usually be standard dialogue really interesting with the visuals or general angle direction while others allow a show to just drag on. For example shows like Railgun and Dr. Stone have excellent direction while to this day I would say Naruto Shippuden’s is pretty weak where it actually succeeds in making parts of the war not very eventful.
I’ve broken this down into a few categories though to tackle some of the nuance for animation. In general I consider hand drawn to be the absolute best. When in doubt always go for traditional hand drawn because you can’t go wrong there. The next tier would be CGI. CGI is at its best when it is supporting hand drawn such as the auras in Dragon Ball Super or many of the attacks in Fate Stay Night. When you blend it together it can look amazing but when the whole show is CGI…it usually can’t keep to the same standard. Your final resort is flash animation. You’re very limited with this style but of course that makes it all the more impressive when you can nail down a good fight. Teen Titans Go for example is a show that manages to have a good fight once in a blue moon. Don’t even get me started on claymation or such for a show though. Let’s….just not.
Best looking anime: One Punch Man
While this is a pretty easy pick for me it’s fairly relative. I would consider shows like Fate Stay Night, Sword Art Online, and Railgun to also be at a really high level like this. Part of what helps One Punch though is that it’s only 12 episodes though and each episode is just at such an insanely high level. Madhouse deserves the props for this one. They grabbed a whole lot of talent for this show and it really shows. Whether you pick a fight like Genos vs Saitama, Boros vs Saitama, or really any fight in the season it looks incredible. It’s hard to see a show beating this one outright but animation is something that is always improving so I certainly would not count it out. For something like this that’s tech based there is always something ready to surpass you at any moment.
Best animation company: Ufotable
So when I’m talking best animation here, I’m thinking about what company comes to mind first when I’m thinking of a bunch of incredibly solid looking anime. Ufotable may not have nearly the extensive resume as other companies like Pierrot, Toei, and J.C. Staff but the shows/movies they do churn out tend to look amazing. Just look at Fate and Demon Slayer. They consistently make waves with how good looking the products are and they keep it up for the whole run. You can tune in to any episode of Fate and expect the same high quality animation. There are no episodes that look bad or off model. That’s very impressive. There’s always a lot of attention to detail so every little movement adds up and it flows together like very few anime can match.
Favorite animation company: Studio Pierrot
All right, so what do I mean by favorite? Well, Pierrot I would say is the strongest company. Not only do they have incredible animation but they do it for incredibly long running shows. Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, and then recently Black Clover are great examples of this. Sure, an individual level may not be able to quite reach Ufotable and it’s hard to take down One Punch from Madhouse, but the shows above are 12-26 episodes. These three shows from Pierrot are over 100 episodes and they look excellent. I know Clover gets a lot of shots fired for its animation for some reason but the fights tend to all be rather top tier. To date there’s only one big fight where I didn’t care for the animation and in that case they were experimenting with a different style that didn’t clique but it’s not like they got lazy or anything.
You can watch pretty much any Bleach fight right now and they all hold up amazingly. Yu Yu Hakusho’s fights still have a lot of impact to them and Black Clover has a lot of energy. This is why Pierrot’s always been my favorite company. They always turn up when they need to and I think it takes a special skillset to really handle these kinds of long running anime. It’s just very difficult and seeing as how these three are some of the best looking anime I’ve seen for 100+ titles then it stands to reason that Pierrot can make a case for being the best company. I won’t put them as the best, but they’re certainly my favorite.
Most up and down animation: J.C. Staff
I thought about Studio Deen for this one since they also get a lot of shots fired but I actually haven’t seen a whole lot from them. What I have seen (Original FSN and Orphen 2020) have been pretty solid. Particularly Orphen 2020 which had a lot of dynamic moments. So J.C. Staff would be my main pick for this one. Mainly because at their best when they have time they tend to churn out some phenomenal titles. I don’t think it’s even debatable that Railgun S and T look amazing. The first season was quality as well and to date I’ve always really liked the very first Railgun from the original Index season a lot. Then you have some of the more recent titles where they’ve had a bit of a tough time like parts of Index III, Accelerator, and One Punch Season 2. So the first gif I’ve attached is the big rematch with Accelerator while below is more of a low key fight from an earlier season. I would make the case that the fight below looks better despite the one above being a lot more important narrative-wise. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad looking fight per say, but it would get destroyed by pretty much every Railgun S/T battle when it should be able to compete with those. Especially considering a character like Accelerator who has so many cool abilities as part of the vectors.
In these cases I would say it’s less about animation being bad/off model and more about just taking a lot of animation shortcuts. For example, instead of animating a full jump, zooming out so the character appears far. Effectively using less animation to get the same visual across. It’s noticeable but it’s not necessarily going to look really bad. There are many companies you could choose for worse animation but J.C. seems to work well for range since at their best they can keep up with anyone and at their worst you feel like they’re taking on too much work. They do seem to be taking a bigger workload than the other companies though. Just compare their history to the other anime companies I’ve already listed. It’s a huge section to sift through.
Worst looking anime Pop Team Epic
Keep in mind of course and this applies to all categories but I’m only considering anime I’ve seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like Berserk would go under this. From what I’ve seen Pop Team deserves this almost hands down. The only show close to it would be FLCL which also looks awful. That first season is borderline unwatchable…I mean the same is true for the sequels but at least the animation got better in those. So Pop Team has to take this. The fact that there is a ton of reused footage in every single episode just further reinforces my point. The show needed the bare minimum of animation and it couldn’t even pull that off. Of course it’s a style choice but that can also just be an excuse to not animate a whole lot. The styles keep changing throughout and yet it looks awful episode after episode. When recommend anime to anyone I can tell you that this would probably be my last choice.
Best looking CGI show- RWBY
RWBY is totally computer generated and you know I had to include RWBY in somewhere here right? The fact that Rooster Teeth has made this show so effectively on what is considered a fairly low budget makes me wonder why every other company struggles so hard with CGI? Clearly anime know how to use it well when fusing it with hand drawn but why is it so hard when a show is completely CGI? I don’t get it. It shouldn’t be so hard. Maybe time consuming short term but in the long run since your character models can adapt to the animation paths it should save you time I don’t see why it can’t be polished more. RWBY continues to show us what true solid animation is and it allows me to keep on hoping that one day CGI shows will all be held to this bar.
So that’s my roster for best looking animation for shows/companies. As you can probably see from my selections I do really enjoy traditional looking anime a lot. A lot of times the more “unique” and out of the box anime don’t work quite as well. Additionally I like striking colors. It’s why you probably wouldn’t see a lot of the more mainstream theater films making the list. For example movies like Your Name or even Digimon Tri tend to go for a more washed out look so there’s less color. Compare that to the show version like the original Digimon Adventure or Pokemon and the color is basically exploding off of the screen. More color is always a good thing and if you throw that in with seamless animation and colorful special abilities then you’re really in business. For that reason action shows will always have an edge over other titles because there is more that you can do to show off the animation. By that token in theory it should also be easier to see if a show is low budget though so high risk high reward. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the winners for the various categories change over the years but right now they all have a pretty strong position in the rankings.