So I’ve been watching this anime, Planetes, for a little while now – to sum up, it’s a hard science fiction series about a group of people who are orbital debris collectors – people who make sure space is clear of man-made junk that could cause damage to the overall development of space. Trying to avoid Kessler syndrome, is one of the main goals. But that’s plot-related, and not quite what I am trying to talk about here.
What I found particularly interesting is that, in order to directly simulate the lack of gravity and fluidity of motion in space, the show’s producers made an active decision to dramatically increase the animation cel count in any shot in space. Considering that anime is, generally, a limited animation medium, this has a powerful effect – it makes the space scenes look more “realistic” (in that they approach lifelike frame and cel counts), and therefore contributes to the overall notion by which the series is perceived as being “hard” science fiction.
The producers made an active decision to change the physical/stylistic norms in order to produce the desired effect; this same decision is seen quite clearly in Madoka Magika when the magical girls go against their opponents, who are deliberately animated and illustrated as being wholly different to the girls themselves.
There’s a point here, which I will get to.
In order for the “otherness” of the enemy to be directly illustrated to the viewer, the producers of Madoka Magika directly illustrate the enemy as the other – they do not look the same, they are not illustrated the same, they are not animated or placed the same. When placed side by side with the girls, they do not look similar – in fact, they look like they should have come from completely different series, completely different worlds. This is an incredibly important detail, as many other series (Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth, Cardcaptor Sakura, etc.) draw and animate the enemy as being identical to the girls, in overall stylistic choice.
The act of being in space means the world of the characters in Planetes dynamically changes and becomes more fluid; the act of fighting the other means that the girls in Madoka Magika are directly confronted with a being which is physically and metaphorically the other.
It’s details like these which give an impression of animation being an entirely different medium to normal film, something that (beyond the incredibly important ‘The Anime Machine’) a lot of scholars seem to glaze over in their study. As important as the narrative is, there’s a physicality to anime which needs to be analysed entirely differently to other mediums.