Exploring sakuga – An interview with Geth

The other articles in this series are available here : Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3 ; An interview with manuloz ; An interview with Blou

This series on the sakuga community is going to be half articles, half interviews of members of the community. The goal of these interviews is to provide some individual and personal accounts of the growth of sakuga, to accompany and contrast with the more general articles.

This time, I interviewed Geth, sakuga fan and Naruto expert, creator of the most famous sakuga Discord, Naruto Sakuga.

Let’s start with the basic question : how did you discover anime and become an anime fan ?

Aside from Pokemon/Yugioh/Digimon which I grew up with dubbed and didn’t realize it came from Japan until much later in life, my start was with Naruto on the Toonami block. It was something I watched often with my cousin, I even remember going on some sketchy websites to watch episodes when it wasn’t airing on TV lol. At some point I just kind of lost interest though until maybe 6-ish years ago now? A friend mentioned playing a Naruto mobile game and so got back into it from there, and a whole bunch of other anime. Coincidentally it happened to be my sakuga-related ‘awakening’ as well, so you could say the series is pretty important to me.

I also wanted to ask about that : how did it happen ? Did you just become fascinated with some scenes, or did you notice things like certain animators’ quirks ?

It’s actually kind of funny, I was in the r/Naruto discord server and (foolishly in hindsight) mentioned how I didn’t like Atsushi Wakabayashi’s cuts on an episode. Obviously not knowing who Wakabayashi is at the time, or having much of an idea of how animation worked. My arguments against it would be hilarious compared to what I spend my time writing nowadays… One of my friends who was further ahead in the whole “animation understanding” than me, was so appalled by my bad take that he started a sort of sakuga bootcamp in the discord server lol. Every week or so he would break down a big episode of Naruto, going frame by frame almost, talking about the style of Norio Matsumoto or directing of Toshiyuki Tsuru. I absorbed it all and it didn’t take long before I was researching on my own. 

How long ago was that ?

Late 2017 ! (I really haven’t been at this for very long, huh)

Did the booru already exist ?

It did, it started in 2014. I was probably among the third wave or so of dedicated users.

Ok. And how did you get more involved in the community after that ? Madly browsing the booru ?

The booru is definitely a dangerous rabbit hole because at the time there was always one more scene to experience for the first time. Now, I think I’ve probably seen the majority of the site… But there is actually a discord server which was created by  @NeguseOreki  and mainly moderated by @Yuyucow, @liborek3 and the other booru mods. Initially, I just didn’t send any messages and lurked for a while because I quickly understood that I knew nothing compared to them lol. Very much a process of learning and absorbing information, I even took hand-written notes which I still have somewhere I think !

That’s impressive dedication…

Beyond discord of course there’s the sakugablog and that video series on Sean Bires’ channel which I learned a lot from.

Yeah that’s quite the introduction, and I think it’s been that for many people. And progressively you started to be able to recognize/guess animators ?

I remember seeing @Bloodyredstar mainly, and @vanjiilost  as well making twitter threads where they would post the video and then make a guess towards the animator. I was kind of bewildered (and extremely impressed) at the entire process of it. I didn’t really set out with the express purpose of identifying animators after that but I would say it’s definitely a fun and sometimes frustrating element that comes with the hobby. I would say Gem (the animator) was a huge help as well, she explained a lot of the technical measures that go into animating, things like approach, and styles. I learned a lot about animation from her insider knowledge.

So Twitter and Discord really were (and still are) the main “meeting places” of the community ?

Yeah Twitter and discord are definitely the main ones.

Speaking of animators, have you ever tried animation yourself ?

I draw casually sometimes but I’m very much an amateur, maybe someday I’ll sit down and seriously try to develop that skill because I think art and animation is an incredibly valuable form of expression.

That brings me to the topic of animation itself then : first, what is it that you like so much about animation ? And anime especially ?

Hmm that’s a tough question because there’s a lot to cover.

With Japanese animation specifically the production pipeline is designed in such a way that the key animator generally has a lot of freedom over the storyboard for their assigned scene. Unlike a lot of western series, it’s common to see a variety of different art styles throughout any given episode, and I think that eclecticism drew me closer to understanding more about animation. Though of course in its modern state the industry is dividing the animation process into smaller parts handled by multiple people to combat brutal schedules, so some of that individuality is being lost sadly.

That’s a real shame. In regard to that, how would you define sakuga, or explain what it is to someone that doesn’t know anything about it ?

Hmm, I’ve personally tried to stray away from using the word sakuga because I think it gives too narrow of a definition to a concept which is extremely expansive. Hearing things like “this isn’t sakuga” with regards to an animated scene irks me slightly because it’s dishonest to quantify an art form like that. The common definition for years has been, and still is, “when the quality of the animation on screen noticeably rises.”

It’s tough to argue that that definition doesn’t hold merit as a starting place, to get a general understanding of what we’re talking about when we refer to strong animation. But I would personally urge people to have an open mind because I don’t think we should be drawing lines in the sand and grouping every scene into two binary piles of “Is not sakuga” and “Is sakuga” . The booru moderators understand this too thankfully and it’s the reason people sometimes complain about the strength of some of the uploads…

So in that sense “sakuga” would just be “good animation” and that’s why you think it’s too narrow ?

Correct, because “good animation” to me likely means something different than what it would mean for someone else. Obviously we can discern a general baseline, like I’m sure nobody would refute Yutaka Nakamura’s work on Sword of the Stranger as an extreme example, but overall it’s good to keep an open mind I think.

That’s a good point. Moving on from that I’d like to ask about your other projects like the artistunknown blog and the sakuga mads. How did they come to be ?

I consider myself an extremely amateur writer but thankfully have great friends that are willing to revise and provide corrections for my work, but sakugablog is definitely a major inspiration. Which makes sense because a lot of my early learning with this hobby came from there so if I can replicate that for others I think I’d be satisfied.  The same is true for sakuga mads, more or less.

Ok. That’s more of a general question but are you also interested in Western animation ? I believe there’s some on the booru, and I’ve seen some Western animation fans here and there in the community.

I’ve watched some stuff like Castlevania and think it’s pretty cool. The TMNT cartoon is also doing some insane stuff that looks very Yoshinori Kanada-inspired (and by extension anime-inspired I suppose, since Kanada inspired all of anime). Mainly though, the homogeneous nature of a lot of western cartoons turns me off from them from an animation-only perspective. It’s that limited variety that comes with anime which makes it special to me so most of my focus is there.

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