Anime background art: Takamura Mukuo, Katsumi Handô, Hiroya Yamura, Shûji Konno roundtable – Translation and commentary

This interview was initially published in the March 1981 issue of Animage. My thanks go to Rick for providing the raws.

“Can’t you feel the discrepancy between the volume of the backgrounds and the flatness of the animation!?”

Today, when one thinks of anime background art, Takamura Mukuo’s name is impossible to ignore. When Mr. Mukuo first entered the world of animation, he was worried whether he should pursue oil painting or not. Today, he was joined by leading art directors, his colleagues Katsumi Handô and Hiroya Yamura, as well as Shûji Konno, to discuss anime background art.

This roundtable was conducted on January 12th, at 6:30PM, at the Keio Plaza hotel in Shinjuku.

Introduction – “You haven’t changed since the old days” (Handô) – “People don’t change that easily!” (Konno)

“Hey, isn’t it the first time that there’s such a focus on anime background artists?”

This is what the first to arrive and the first to speak, Mr. Shûji Konno, asked. Surprised by the sudden question, this is what the Animage editor answered:

“Huh? Huh, yes, it is.

– Ah, I see, it’s the first time. Isn’t it a bit late for that? Oh, well…”

Mr. Konno spoke like he was making threats (but surely that couldn’t have been intentional…). Moreover, when he spoke, his eyes lit up and he seemed to scowl at the person facing him.

“Well, now that we’re here, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to make a big presentation of background artists.

– O-of course.” Before he could realize what he was doing, the Animage editor started bowing.

Mr. Konno was Mr. Mukuo, Mr. Handô and Mr. Yamura’s senior in Mushi Production. At first, he was responsible for animation and direction, but one day, he decided that he liked oil painting better and suddenly went to France. Today, he teaches Western painting in university. 

10 minutes later, Handô and Yamura arrive together. Konno welcomes them: “hey, aren’t you late?

– We’re terribly sorry.” Handô answers in a husky voice. After that, Yamura, also nicknamed “the mini Sakyo Komatsu”, stands straight and says: “It’s been a while. You haven’t changed, Mr. Konno…

– People don’t change that easily!”

The three of them chat for around 30 minutes, and then, Mr. Takamura Mukuo finally arrives.

Mukuo.  Sorry, sorry!

Konno.  It’s hard being a star, huh ? (laughs)

Mukuo.  I’m really sorry!

Handô.  Busy with work?

Mukuo.  Yes, a meeting for Galaxy Express ran late…

Yamura.  That happens. How are you?

Mukuo.  Oh, Yacchan, how are you? I’m really sorry about today.

Mr. Mukuo enters the room and takes a seat after bowing 7 or 8 times and repeating “sorry” in a husky voice, with high octaves reminiscent of Shin’ichi Mori’s singing.

Takamura Mukuo (Representative of Mukuo Studio)

Birthday: 01/01/1938 (43 years old)

Place of birth: Nagasaki prefecture

Main works: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999 (theatrical version)

Hobbies: “I’ve been too busy to do anything lately… But I like taking pictures.”

1- Encounters“If you want to keep doing oil painting, stop working in animation” (Kanno)

Animage.  The four of you are originally from Mushi Pro, so to start the discussion, I’d like to ask how you began working there.

Konno.  I studied in an art school and entered Tôei as soon as I graduated, but then I joined Mushi Pro when it was created. When things became busy, I invited Handô to help out and had him begin working in animation.

Handô.  I can still remember the day when you asked me to help. I was still in university back then, and while I was waiting for the train in Kunitachi station, I ran into Mr. Konno who immediately asked me if I didn’t want to come to Mushi. I wasn’t really serious about my studies, so on that same day, I went to visit Mr. Tezuka’s house in Fujimidai, which also served as his office.

Animage.  Was it to take a test or interview?

Handô.  Not at all, the company had just been established, and I took paint with me on that day (laughs).

Konno.  What were we working on at the time?

Handô.  It was the film Tales from a Street Corner. What made me the most happy about working there wasn’t that I had found a job or was being paid, but that I could eat katsudon (laughs).

Yamura.  Ah, it was the same for me. They were so good!

Animage.  Mr. Yamura, when did you enter Mushi?

Yamura.  I was invited by Handô.

Mukuo.  Same for me.

Animage.  Which one of you joined first?

Mukuo.  Yacchan was first. When I first went there, I took a peek at the workshop, and I was surprised by how good he was with an airbrush. I can still remember it.

Yamura.  Well, that was the only thing I did back then!

Mukuo.  Still, I was really impressed. If you’re not careful with the airbrush, the paint just spreads all over, doesn’t it? I was so nervous when I had to do it (laughs).

Handô.  Hm, so you joined 1 year after me, right? You were still in university, weren’t you?

Animage.  Why did you invite them?

Handô.  Long story short, we had so much work and not enough people, and since they lived in the same building as me…

Konno.  So basically, I just invited Handô to Mushi Pro, but then he invited Mukuo and Yamura. I remember telling Mukuo that he’d better leave.

Animage.  Why?

Konno.  Well, at the time, Mukuo wanted to pursue a career in oil painting, and he didn’t know whether he should continue working on backgrounds for animation.

Mukuo.  That’s right.

Konno.  This kind of hesitation really irritated me, so I told him to make a decision. I told him that once you enter the animation world, you can’t leave it.

Animage.  What do you mean by that?

Konno.  In animation, work just keeps coming, as if you were on a conveyor belt. Because you have to eat, you must keep working. And you can’t do animation if you’re not completely into it. That’s just what I wanted to convey.

Mukuo.  It’s exactly as Mr. Konno said. At the time, I’d do backgrounds in Mushi Pro all day, come back home late, and keep working on my own paintings. I even submitted some of my work to an exhibition, but well…

Konno.  That’s why I told you that if you wanted to be a painter, you should have found another job, like washing dishes or manual work…

Mukuo.  But well, in the end I managed to keep it on until now (laughs).

Konno.  But you know, the only reason I told him to quit was because he was lost. When he started to master the techniques needed for animation, like the airbrush, I stopped saying anything.

Animage.  Which is to say, Mr. Mukuo, your appreciation for animation background art progressively grew after you entered Mushi?

Mukuo.  That’s right. I started getting more passionate about it, and I came to feel that it could be interesting.

Animage.  Was there a certain reason, or event for that?

Mukuo.  I don’t know… If I had to say, it just burst out all of a sudden. I was satisfied being able to make a living and draw: I understood that I should be happy about having a job that made it possible to keep painting and eat at the same time. Once I had realized that, I took another look at it and discovered a new depth to it. In the end, I became so absorbed in it that I stayed.

Katsumi Handô (Representative of Studio Yuni)

Birthday: 05/05/1938 (42 years old)

Place of birth: Nagano prefecture

Main works: Moomin (Mushi Pro), Wanpaku Omukashi Kum-Kum, Meiken Jollie

Hobbies: “Drinking alcohol, maybe?”

2 – From backgrounds to art – “Hacchan, you were really a pioneer among independent background artists” (Yamura)

Animage.  Mr. Mukuo, how long did you stay in Mushi?

Mukuo.  Around one year.

Handô.  When he left, he and I entered Tokyo Movie, which had just been created at the time.

Mukuo.  If I remember correctly, our first work was on Big X.

Handô.  Then, after 2 years in Tokyo Movie, we left to go on our own.

Yamura.  When you created your independent studio, Hacchan, you were really a pioneer for independent background artists.

Handô.  Now that you say it… It’s true that there weren’t any others.

Animage.  And you, Mr. Mukuo?

Mukuo.  I started working together with Handô.

Konno.  We’re talking about 15 or 16 years ago, right?

Yamura.  Yes. It’s when the two of them went independent that their true ability became visible, a bit like the foreign player from overseas in professional baseball: they were the players who would immediately get the work done.

Animage.  But, however confident you must have been, you were the first in Japan to establish an independent structure for background artists. Weren’t you afraid?

Handô.  It was a time when work kept coming, so I just worried about being able to take all the orders. And I had a strong partner in Mukuo (laughs).

Mukuo.  Don’t exaggerate! But the hardest must have been estimating the costs once we had received the orders.

Handô.  That’s right. We didn’t know how much it was ok to ask for, so I made the bills by adding what we needed for our salaries and the expenses for the material. I really didn’t care back then (laughs).

Animage.  Where was your workshop?

Handô.  In my house, one 6-tatami room. Back then, there was Mukuo and two others, and we’d do roughly 200 pieces for one production?

Mukuo.  Our first work was for Tatsunoko Pro. And then, around one year after we started working together, I was doing things on my own.

Yamura.  We were still credited as “background” back then.

Mukuo.  We were.

Handô.  That’s right. The first time that the “art” credit appeared on TV was on Jungle Taitei.

Shûji Konno (Western-style painter)

Birthday: 03/12/1933 (47 years old)

Place of birth: Hokkaidô

Main Works: The White Serpent, Anju and Zushiomaru, Tales of a Street Corner; he also directed one episode in three of Astro Boy

Hobbies: “Music, reading… wait, isn’t that way too normal?”

3 – Animation and pure painting – “In animation, where can the background artist develop their individuality?”

By this point, an hour had already passed. The empty beer bottles were starting to pile up… Maybe it’s because they hadn’t met each other in a long time, but it felt like a reunion of Mushi Pro alumni.

Animage.  So far, we’ve focused the talk on the evolution of Mr. Mukuo’s career as a background artist, but now I’d like to change topics and take the opportunity of so many artists being there. The big question is, “what’s the difference between ‘pure’ painting like oil painting and animation art?” What do you all think about this topic?

Handô.  Wow, what a difficult one… What do you think, Mr. Kanno?

Konno.  Why don’t you answer that for yourself! (laughs)

Mukuo.  Hmm… I can’t say it properly, but pure painting is aimed at yourself, you’re trying to find yourself… It’s like you transfer your own feelings onto the canvas. On the other hand, in my case, when I do art for animation, I have to take multiple things into acount and use both the world of images and the ordinary world that surrounds us as starting points… That’s what I think… 

Handô.  Hmm, I don’t know if it’s because the question is so wide, or if it’s because we’re all gathered together like this, but I don’t know what to answer (laughs). But to put it in layman’s terms, basically anime is a total work of art made by a large number of people, whereas pure painting is purely individual.

Konno.  You should have said that first! (laughs) Animation is made with the contributions of many things: the original work, the scenario, the camera, the animation, the direction, and the art – fundamentally, just like it is for cinema, art is just one part of the whole and influences that whole. But I don’t think that the animation is the only thing to move: put simply, I also think that backgrounds are moving “pictures”.

Animage.  As everybody said, this is the idea that animation background art is just part of a greater work of art. But then where can the background artist develop their own individuality?

Handô.  Well, if there’s an original work, everybody interprets it in their own way: the director, the animators, the background artists. That’s how the image develops. And it’s there that you’re totally free to develop your individuality. Basically, if the art has something special, that’s where the individuality can be expressed.

Konno.  In that sense, the problem isn’t how much room you have for self-expression within that “special” framework, but rather how far you can expand this framework you’re working with.  This doesn’t just apply to background artists: this is shared by each department, and it’s when each department tries to expand a little bit on this that a good work can be made. On the other hand, the works where people don’t pursue that “special” dimension are boring.

Handô.  For example, during a meeting for something I’m working on, it was I, from my position as art director, who insisted that we should put a mountain cabin somewhere on a mountainside.

Animage.  Why did you do that?

Handô.  That was to create “atmosphere” – a sense of distance that was needed to make a good composition. And then the director said that it would interfere with the character’s performance, so rather than on the mountainside, we should put the cabin lower. We had a bit of a disagreement on that point. In the end, I think I’ll end up going with what the director said, but that doesn’t mean I gave up my individuality.

Mukuo.  Right, right.

Handô.  But if the director asked for a completely different touch, then I’d oppose him.

Yamura.  Hacchan, isn’t that one of your special fighting techniques? (laughs)

Handô.  If I did that, it would be because the director rejected my technique as an artist.

Yamura.  You’re right to say this. However, if there was a communication problem during the meeting and I didn’t understand the director’s intent, then I’d fix it immediately.

Animage.  What do you think about this, Mr. Mukuo?

Handô.  Mukuo has got his own unmistakable trademark, so I suppose there aren’t a lot of problems.

Animage.  “Trademark”? Could you expand on that?

Handô.  Realism, or rather, a definite sense of presence…

Mukuo.  Is that so? (laughs) Well, most of what I do is science-fiction, so beforehand I always study my surroundings, the trees, grass, flowers and sceneries, so that I can draw while always keeping a fundamental sense of life.

Konno.  Mukuo’s art is also very elaborate.

Handô.  You don’t say! It’s so delicate, and you can attach yourself to each little detail.

Konno.  Right. But I wonder if outsiders can’t be a bit troubled by this precision.

Animage.  Ah, that’s precisely what I wanted to talk about next.

Handô.  Please do it as delicately as possible (laughs).

Hiroya Yamura (Representative of Studio Jack)

Birthday: 20/02/1940 (40 years old)

Place of birth: Yamaguchi prefecture

Representative works: Vickie the Viking, Little Lulu and her Small Friends, The Little Prince

Hobbies: “I don’t have any…”

4 – Volume and flatness – “If you draw too many details in the backgrounds, there will be no common ground with the animation” (Konno)

Konno.  Basically, one of the things that people have been discussing for a while about animation is this: the animation is done with lineart, so it feels “flat”, whereas backgrounds are drawn with tones and so feel “three-dimensional”. And in some cases, both don’t really come together well.

Mukuo.  Exactly.

Konno.  So, what I’m trying to say is that if you add a lot of precision to three-dimensional backgrounds, the discrepancy between the characters and backgrounds may become even stronger…

Handô.  Did something in particular make you think that?

Konno.  I’m speaking about animation in general. Moreover, however detailed your drawings are, it’ll be wasted if the camera moves too fast or if the director decides to blur them out. So I don’t think it’s a very smart way to manage your work, especially when you’re in an independent studio. Especially nowadays, where the trend is to make things more efficient without dropping the quality.

Mukuo.  I see.

Konno.  Even aside from that, I’m concerned by the fact that it’s very time-consuming and might cause problems. But I’m not saying this for Mukuo in particular, I’m just speaking hypothetically! (laughs).

Mukuo.  No, you’re right, thank you for your words. I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

Yamura.  If I may chime in, I think that the problem of the discrepancy between characters and background was resolved quite well in The 101 Dalmatians.

Konno.  Oh, that’s right. It’s a real success on that front. In that case, we have to consider the difference between full and limited animation, but I think we all feel that it’s necessary to find ways to avoid making that discrepancy visible.

Handô.  Yes, that’s definitely something I have in mind.

Yamura.  I’m the same. The thing is, I feel that the children who watch animation look at characters and backgrounds separately.

Animage.  Could you explain what you mean by this?

Yamura.  I mean that they’re multitasking. For example, you have people who study while listening to the radio, and nowadays, people have their Walkmans when they go out and can do two things at the same time. So in the same way, people who watch television see both the characters and backgrounds, but unconsciously, they’re appreciating each in a different way.

Animage.  Is this because it’s two different sets of pictorial symbols?

Yamura.  I don’t really know…

Mukuo.  About that, it’s possible that animation has permeated children’s lives in a way that our generation can’t even imagine. At the same time, the number of young people who want to make animation is definitely growing.

Handô.  I agree.

Mukuo.  So I want to transmit to those young people techniques and an environment that will allow them to make the next generation of animation even better than today’s. I’ve been passionately working on animation and now, I suddenly find myself in my 40s, about to see my physical abilities decline, so… (and, just at this point, Mr. Konno suddenly started shouting)

Konno.  Your physical ability, going to decline, in your 40s? Don’t make me laugh! If you’re saying that, what about me, who’s 10 years older than all of you? (laughs) Yeah, I know, it’s the old man ranting again. People of all ages are working in animation! And that’s how it should be!

Mukuo.  I’m sorry. I was sure that you were going to react if I said this, but this was beyond my expectations (laughs).

Konno.  Anyways, keep that part off-record. Correct it with “I’m heading in my 50s, which is the perfect age”!

Mukuo.  I understand, let me correct myself: as we are approaching our 50s, us, who are walking on the oily way of painting, hope to transmit at least a bit of our technique and thinking to the young people about to enter the world of animation.

Konno.  Much better like this! (laughs)


The roundtable ended at 8:45, with the 4 participants, who hadn’t seen each other in a while, still wanting to stay together and asking each other if they’d go back straight home. Everybody left the room hoping to meet again in another roundtable.


Translation notes

Terminology. The word usually used to refer to background art in Japanese is 美術 (bijutsu), which more generally means “fine arts”. Here, I have translated it as “background art” or “art”. The alternative 背景 (haikei), which more literally means “background” has been translated as such.

“workshop”. The Japanese says アトリエ, a transcription of the French word “atelier”, which I have translated as its equivalent, “workshop”. The reason I bring this up is that the word connotes a link to fine arts and is very different from the way animators refer to their own workplace, be that “studio” ( スタジオ) or “animation room” (作画屋/部).

“pure painting”. While the hierarchy is obvious, the expression 純粋絵画 (junsui kaiga) sounds less weird in Japanese than it does in English to refer to the opposition between high and low culture; for example, “high-brow literature” is also called “pure literature”.

This roundtable opens on quite the interesting and revealing assertion: that, “when one thinks of anime background art, Takamura Mukuo’s name is impossible to ignore”. Things have changed since then, as awareness of anime background directors has (hopefully) increased, and as Mukuo’s early death in 1992 has made his name go relatively forgotten among younger generations of fans. There is, however, one thing that hasn’t changed: among the four artists featured here, he is the only one whose name remained somewhat famous. Even at the time, Mukuo’s stature was incomparable with that of his three colleagues: by March 1981, he had won his second Anime Grand Prix in a row as “best background artist”, and would win three more before the category was taken down – probably because the results had become too predictable. Closely associated to creators and works championed by Animage – Isao Takahata’s Marco and Gauche, and Rintarô’s two Galaxy Express films, he was both a readers and editors’ favorite – which is why it’s so interesting to see him here, not on his own, but surrounded by older colleagues and friends who can challenge and joke about his status.

In turn, the reason I wanted to translate this roundtable wasn’t only for Mukuo, although he is one of my favorite background artists and one of the most important art directors in anime history. Just as I have been trying, in my articles, to move away from animator-centrism, I wouldn’t want these translations to just focus on animators or even directors. In my previous translation, dedicated to the movie The Weathering Continent, I found art director Shûichi Hirata’s comments the most interesting, and realized we seldom hear background artists’ point of view in English-speaking fandom. And I believe I was justified in choosing this specific roundtable: not only was it largely within the limits of my abilities in Japanese, it is a very fun read, and one full of fascinating insights. In this commentary, I would like to focus on two in particular: the sociological and symbolic differences between animators and background artists, and the evolutions in the role of background artists in anime production.

What one feels very acutely in this interview is a sort of uncertainty, one might even say unease, over the precise status of background artists. It is visible in the terminology used to refer to them: are they simply parts of a “conveyor belt” just in charge of doing “backgrounds”, or instead the only real people in animation production doing real “fine arts”? All the people interviewed here had been in art schools, and at least two of them (Mukuo and Konno) did “actual” painting, whether that be on the side or as a career. In other words, they came from “legitimate” places. It seems that they had not been totally prepared for the kind of work they’d have to do in anime – the mention of airbrushes, the main tool used by background artists at the time, and Mukuo’s inexperience with them, seems to show it. But, by the early 80s and the rise in status of art directors, the question was probably being raised again.

This is particularly important when we compare the respective situations of animators and background artists. Although the early 80s represents the start of the “charisma animators” movement, in which individual animators and their styles began being acknowledged on their own, there was never a similar confusion between “art” and “commerce” or “high” and “low” art. Indeed, one of the most recurring tunes one hears from animators, whether that be in the 1980s or the 2020s, is the idea that they are not artists but “craftsmen” or even just “entertainers”.

Part of that difference also comes from each profession’s origins. While Tôei’s first animator recruits counted many art graduates (such as Shûji Konno or Kazuko Nakamura), there were also self-taught artists (Yasuo Otsuka) or what may seem like complete laymen (Hayao Miyazaki, an political science and economy graduate, or Reiko Okuyama, an education and language student). As for Mushi and most other early anime studios, many of their animators were either self-taught, aspiring or confirmed manga artists, or had received previous training in animation from another studio. As the industry developed and vocational schools slowly appeared, the connection between the art world and animators vanished: when, in 1970, aspiring sculptor Tomonori Kogawa became an animator after having failed to enter an art university, he was already an exception.

It is remarkable, then, that the conclusion reached by our group of background artists about their work is a very conventional one, that we could as well hear from any animator: animation work is “collective”, it is a “total work of art” and one essentially has to fit into it. However, in spite of the journalist’s attempt to bring the discussion on the ground of personal creativity and expression, which is often the way it is framed with animators (from the columns of Animage to current sakuga discourse), the way background artists approach their position within that collective is different.

It could be argued that art directors are creators of worlds, whereas animators are creators of expressions – or, as a worn-out metaphor would have it, actors or performers. Certainly, such a label would fit Mukuo, whether that be for his central role in crafting the social and geographical realism of Marco or giving a reality to the expanses of space in Galaxy Express 999. It could also be applied quite easily to other “charisma art directors”, whose work can completely dictate the overall aesthetic of a film or series: think Shichirô Kobayashi or Hiromasa Ogura. But the artists in this interview seem to reject such a label: personal expression remains an issue for them, but they do not appear to frame themselves as creators. Rather, they are well aware that their role is one of support: supporting the director’s vision by bringing it into actual images, and supporting the animators’ work by providing its backdrop.

The question of the relationship between background art and animation brings me to the second idea I would like to discuss in this commentary: the place of anime background art over time or, more precisely, the respective roles played by animation, background art, and compositing, and their relationship.

One of the things that surprised me most when reading this roundtable were Kanno’s remarks about the “discrepancy” between animation and backgrounds and the idea that underlines them: that the management of that discrepancy is largely the role of background artists. This was a surprise because today, this is a role we rather tend to assign to compositing, whose function is not just to “put together” the background and cel (and, today, CGI) layers, but also to ensure their proper mutual integration. This made me reflect on the changing roles and relationships between background art, animation and compositing from the analog to the digital era.

First, I would like to note that I do not intend to build into the (unsurprisingly) common idea that analog photography was somewhat more “primitive” or less complex than its digital counterpart. One does not even need to look as far as Osamu Dezaki and Hirotaka Takahashi’s pushing the limits of the multiplane camera on Nobody’s Boy Remi, Rintarô and Ban Yamaki’s intricate use of backlighting on Genma Taisen, or Shin’ya Ohira and Hiroshi Satô’s incredibly complex camerawork on Hakkenden: Shin Sô #04 to demonstrate this. By properly using film sensitivity and filters, any photography director with a good grasp of their craft actually had tremendous control over the overall look and atmosphere of a series or film.

But the fact is that the work of photography directors has changed with the switch to digital, and not just in terms of tools. Or rather, the change of tools has allowed for change in artistic techniques. The same applies to animation and background art, of course, but what I’m interested in here is not each one in isolation, but their relationship. What I would like to argue here is that, in the analog era, each of these steps was visibly separate from the others and had a sort of existence of its own – allowing for the sort of “multitasking” evoked by Yamura. For instance, Shichirô Kobayashi’s art could carry a show on its own, even if the animation was lacking, or Mukuo’s sense for detail could provide sufficient groundwork for the “realism” of an entire show. Similarly, photography could steal a scene and give it an otherworldly appeal that a more straightforward execution might have been unable to. But, in each case, the other parts of the process – animation and background art – were not directly affected. Each part of the production existed in parallel, and in a sort of rivalry – which is what makes works such as Rintarô’s, in which animation and photography are so intricately tied together, so exceptional: they build upon the difference to create unprecedented forms of collaboration. 

On the other hand, in the digital pipeline, photography has taken a prominence that it did not have before. This is not to say that photography has fundamentally changed by switching to digital – it’s ultimately still just about stacking layers and recording the end result, and the final work of an uninspired or simply minimalistic photography director today is no less unremarkable than that of an uninspired or minimalistic photography director in the past. However, the meaning of “visible” photography has changed, because in digital photography, the artist can use their tools, more easily and more efficiently. In the analog era, filters were ultimately optional; they have become mandatory today, and we rarely have access to the “raw”, unprocessed cels like we might for analog-era shows.

The increased weight of photography is most visible in the cases when it fails to do its job properly, that is when it detrimentally affects the overall visual presentation – and not just when it makes certain parts of the visuals, such as the animation, “less visible”. In the analog era, this could only happen through sheer incompetence – such as, hypothetically, having the entire frame out of focus for no discernable reason, or not lighting the cels and backgrounds properly. Actual photography mistakes can be disturbing, but are on a far smaller scale: objects that don’t move when they’re supposed to or move when they’re not supposed to, bad lip-flapping, the operator’s hands appearing between frames… But once again, they distract the attention, they do not make it impossible.

Such can be the case with digital photography mistakes. And this is not just me criticizing bad digital photography: “good” photography that elevates the animation and backgrounds does not simply add onto them, it can actively modify them to an extent that analog photography couldn’t. Elements such as shading, gradation or texture, which had been largely in the hands of animators, background artists and colorists, are now mostly in the hands of photography staff. In that sense, digital photography can “correct” discrepancies to an extent that was simply impossible in the analog days – or it can also build onto them, as bad integration of 3D and 2D animation illustrates.

As a conclusion, I’d like to go back to the idea of “visibility” and the “multitasking” discussed by Yamura. Seeing how a creator – especially a creator of something so technical as anime background art – perceives their audience is always fascinating. Following Toshio Okada’s remarks in Introduction to Otakuology, much has been said on the perception of animation and the way otakus – or sakuga fans – would privilege frame-by-frame viewing to better assess the work of animators. To my knowledge, such remarks have never been applied to other areas of animation production, but it seems that they could – which would help us move away from Okada’s hagiographic and deterministic argument.

While Yamura and Mukuo describe their audience as “children”, I don’t think we should make too much of this: not only was anime still mostly aimed at children, it was also probably still the conventional way to refer to audiences in 1981. What interests me here is less the idea of children as the audience making anime “children’s media”, but more the idea of “children” as “the next generation”, something that Mukuo seems to pick up on. With this in mind, there seems to be a sort of awareness of changes in perception and spectatorship: Mukuo’s comment that “animation has permeated children’s life in a way that our generation can’t imagine” can be both read in relation to animator’s comments (and complaints) at the time that young generations were just “anime fans” and otakus, or as a broader statement on culture.

In any case, this fragmentation of the perception is certainly something that I can relate to as an otaku and sakuga fan. By this, I do not mean a “database animal” sort of perception, as Hiroki Azuma would have it, but simply the heightened care and awareness that comes from passion and connoisseurship. While this certainly has to do with certain media environments (whether the determining metaphor be that of Yamura’s Walkman or Okada’s VCR), it is also perhaps a fundamental part of animation, as a medium. Just as (cel) animation’s production is fragmented in different processes and techniques, so too can our perception attach itself to each part, either separately from or alongside the others. 

The question of “discrepancy” obviously remains. As I think both I and the roundtable make clear, this is an issue that pertains to cel animation itself – and the contrast with digital work, where such discrepancies can be attenuated or minimized, further illustrates that. But, ultimately, its resolution is not a fixed answer – it always comes at the encounter between creators and viewers. It is, in other words, a matter of art.

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