Note: The post below is a report completed in response to a university assignment. The task was to select an area of interest, decide on a particular topic and to research into it in order to come to some form of conclusion that answers the original question. This was the first report I have done as a part of my studies and my thoughts and opinions on this question has since changed slightly. But, with that said, I thought this may be interesting for others to see as well.

For the original formatting, you can find and access the .PDF file here.

Contents Page

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Research/Findings
  4. Analysis
  5. Citations
  6. References
  7. Bibliography


When we speak of the type of animation being produced in Eastern Asia, what comes to mind is the style of anime, mostly produced in Japan. Anime, as we have come to know it, is a specific style of animation originally intended for the Japanese audience which has been popularized for generally having over-exaggerated eye sizes, intense fight battles, wacky hair styles and an odd sense for fashion on occasion. You may recognize the style if you have ever watched or at least heard of shows such as Pokemon and Dragonball Z from TV channels like Cartoon Network, especially from the late 90s onwards. Because of its continuous episodic storyline, Japanese animation gained a large following in the west as people were steadily gaining an interest in an actual story in their cartoons which ended up making evenings for adolescences and even young adults a lot more exciting.

That said, as time has gone on, Japanese studios are continuing to push the boundaries, adapting to new technologies and trends, but also experimenting, where possible, to see how they are able to deliver their stories via the visual medium. Western animation is no different, but what is it about Asian animation that makes it so… different? Is it the characters themselves, the visual aesthetic or is it just a cultural difference that we’re not used to or experienced before here in the west?

In this report, I aim to cover what it is about certain art styles and influences that we can expect to come across that makes us feel a certain way and how that can affect the viewer, a short history about some of the major visual changes throughout the years but also how this has had an impact in other forms of media, not only in Asia but also across the world. So, the question I put to you is How does a change in art style found in Eastern Asian animation affect the way a story is told?

Literature Review

To form a more concrete understanding of style and animation found in Japanese anime, I refreshed my memory of several notable series and movies where something had stuck out to me and will go into more depth later on in this report. These series/movies include: Monogatari series, Redline, The Garden of Words, Flowers of Evil, Cowboy Bebop, K-On! And Paprika. These works of animation will prove to be valuable to this report as they, interestingly enough, share similar qualities to one another despite their vast difference in approach of style, yet still manage to elicit some very different responses.

What was evident when looking back on these animations is that storytelling was the absolute core of the show and the style in which it came in was a secondary thought. To help visualize this, imagine that the story of something is represented as a plain cake. The cake tastes great by itself, the jam is not too sweet and the cream is exactly how you like it, but if you were to put some icing on it, add some sprinkles and finish it off with some sugary jelly tots on top, or your topping of choice, the cake becomes so much tastier. It’s like that but with animation and in any form of storytelling in general. The story is what makes it memorable but the style chosen is just the cherry on top.

In addition to this, I discovered an interview from 2016 with Koichi Kikuta, an animator that worked on shows such as Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3, Nisemonogatari and Sword Art Online where he mentions that “the quality of an anime is in the layouts, not the characters.” (Kikuta, 2016). This states how, in his opinion, the key element behind an anime show is predominantly found within the pre-planning stages where animators and directors alike are working on scene compositions and not necessarily within the characters themselves. As an animator or even a film director, it is totally understandable that they would feel a much larger attachment to how an anime is laid out that the average viewer might not appreciate as much. After all, composition is so, so important, especially with a visual medium such as video.

When asked about his involvement on the scene compositions of the anime Konosuba, Kikuta expressed his joy of treating it like any other director would on a live movie and said:

“Trying to make the composition as realistic as possible is par the course for me, and I always draw layouts with the hopes of bringing out a camera-like or photo-like feel. I did my very best to evoke that with episode 9, but when I looked it up on the internet, people only talked about the boobs. (laughs) Not a single person talked about the layouts. It was devastating.”

  • Kikuta, 2016

To continue on with the subject of film direction, I thought it would be beneficial to research into some of the common camera shots used on set. My endeavours lead to a website that listed twelve camera angles that, according to the New York Film Academy, ‘all actors should know.’ I figured that Eastern Asian animation and even Western animation is not so different to live action filmmaking as they both aim to get a specific angle, whether it be filmed with a physical camera or drawn, to evoke a certain expression or feeling to help support the story. I also wanted to see if I could prove that this was correct, so in order to do so, I took note of each type of shot along with their provided examples, picked a random anime series I admired and went to see if I could identify those exact types. In Figure 1, you will see a collage of screenshots. The first 3 rows are what have included while the bottom 3 rows are screenshots from the series Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Ranging from the upper left to the lower right, we have: The Aerial Shot, The Establishing Shot, The Close-Up (CU), The Extreme Close-Up (XCU), The Medium Shot (MS), The Dolly Zoom, The Over-the-Shoulder Shot, The Low Angle Shot, The High Angle Shot, The Two-Shot, The Wide Shot and finally, The Master Shot.

Figure 1 - The 12 camera angles examples in comparison to the Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works series

Even though I knew full well that there are much better examples of cinematography in Japanese animation, I still managed to easily find some examples from this series that fits all twelve types. This has proven how an understanding of the camera and composition is vital for great storytelling that matches any other film with real actors in them. Mix this knowledge with a certain art style and the telling of the story is changed along with how the viewer responds to it. Hibike! Euphonium also seems to be another good example that online users enjoy when it comes to composition in anime. Refer to Figure 2 for examples.

Figure 2 - Composition examples in Hibeke! Euphonium


As we live during the age of technology and information, we sometimes forget what makes the activities we participate in so interesting and where it even originated from, but also what was being influenced at the time of creation despite having this knowledge at our very fingertips, thanks to the internet. With this said, it is important we take a step back in time every now and then to truly appreciate its progress but also at the same time to understand a little bit about sociology, the human mind and how this affects us not only in animation specifically, but in the visual appeal sense as a whole; but to do so, we must first look back more than a hundred years into the past – to when Japan’s film industry first kicked off creating animation.

It all started with a 3 second video clip titled Katsudō shashin, shown in Figure 3, creator unknown. In this silent video, a boy in a sailor uniform is seen writing “活動写真”, translating to “activity photo”, before turning back around, tipping his hat and then bowing to the viewer. What was most evident about this clip was the method of production. It makes total sense that at the time animators were very limited with what they could use which always resulted in animations looking very rough but the best part about this video is that even without any context whatsoever, anyone, despite their background, is able to identify a young 2D boy, rotating in a pseudo 3D space and separate the visual elements to fully envision the entire scene and that all comes down to style of choice. Whoever this artist was understood the limitations of his or her tool set and stuck with the absolute basics and thus coming to the conclusion of using just black and red ink, yet still have their audience understand what they are seeing. No external added textures, no funky patterns, nothing.

Figure 3 - Katsudō shashin. The boy with the red hat, 1912

Some years down the line, cel animation was introduced into the work flow. Cheap and accessible materials such as chalk, paint and paper cut-outs allowed animators to go back and forth much easier, or to use a more technical term, onion skinning, for which many years became the industry standard. However, during the 1930s, the style in which animators had to take influence from often came from Second World War propaganda. This meant that animators at the time had to consider very seriously how to send out a specific message while considering their target audience; that audience being everyone which, as you would expect, plays a huge part in the way it looks. This, of course, was not specific to Asia only. During this timeframe, Walt Disney was also producing propaganda cartoons for the American government.

In this cartoon, shown in Figure 4, the protagonist Donald Duck of Commando Duck is sent on a mission to fight against the Japanese in which are portrayed as being sneaky, overly polite, with muffled Asian accents while showing them excessively bowing.

Figure 4 – Donald Duck in Commando Duck, 1944

In order to answer the question of why did Walt Disney make this clip, we need to dissect the animation into a few parts. As we know, WWII was a time of desperation. Knowing this, the target audience had to be aimed towards everyone and anyone, including young adults and children about to turn 18, or even as low as 14 if you were to lie, [1] so a cartoon was the perfect format to broadcast to TV. Secondly, the character was crucial. Donald Duck is portrayed as being cowardly yet despite this, he still continued the mission like any other soldier. This will, even if they don’t realise it themselves, influence viewers to think ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ Finally, the style had to be friendly. Walt Disney is known for their cell shaded and bright art which makes people feel warm and happy on the inside, but if you were to for a second imagine that same video but in the style of Tim Burton, for example, no longer does the animation look humorous and positive but instead bleak and horrifying, thus dissuading potential recruits to enlist in the army to help fight the biggest war we have ever seen.

In 1948, a few years after the war had ended, Toei Animation, despite poor beginnings in the movie industry, became the first Japanese animation studio to fully devote itself to entertainment and went on to create hit shows such as One Piece, Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z. Because of this, anime has become one of the largest and most iconic cultural differences in the past century.

With the war over, animators, artists and directors around the world were finally free to create their own stories with peace of mind. As technology advanced, so did style and means of production. We have noticed character’s eyes getting rounder, facial construction being smoother, lines getting thinner, noses getting smaller along with many other characteristic changes.

Figure 5 – 20 years difference, before and after

Like humans and animals, we evolve. As evolving beings, the work we create will also evolve until the day we pass the responsibility onto our next of kin. As such, we will always notice small changes throughout the years but it is only once we look back that we can see how much has changed. In the present day, 3D animation and CGI plays such a huge role in the way animation is created; both Eastern Asian and Western animation, but also how it looks. We have so much control now that it almost feels as if we can create almost anything exactly how we imagine it.

As mentioned before, animation is evolving, both in style and in methodology. Before computers, everything was hand-made which gave that feeling of a carefully crafted piece of art. Every single frame was to be treasured wholeheartedly and this was the source of Studio Ghibli’s success to begin with and also why they maintained popularity even in 2017. Animator Hayao Miyazaki, work shown in Figure 6, believes strongly in the process of putting in the hard work to make it all from scratch and is something that his son, Gorō Miyazaki, has since picked up on. This results in a unique style that can be very difficult to recreate with computer graphics. Pause at any moment during any of his movies and it will still look beautiful as a standalone piece. This becomes so important when we debate what style an animation should have. Sometimes, it just has to be done by hand whereas digital processing is what gets the job done.

Figure 6 – Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

On the total flipside, some studios like Studio Nexcs has used before in their work a technique called rotoscoping. In order to achieve this effect, you must first use film. Once the film has been captured, you simply draw on top of the footage. This results in an uncanny style in which everything is proportionally correct to human anatomy while maintaining the same aesthetic as any other animation. To some, they find that this is a step-up in anime production because it might one day become the industry standard, whereas others seem to agree when they say it’s just not there yet. The studio has lept a little too far and reached a style that most people can’t accept just yet. However, it can be said that perhaps a source of influence behind the making of the movie Flowers of Evil, shown in Figure 7, was that the original intent was to create a stronger connection between the audience by making their characters look a bit like them. By making human characters that actually look human, perhaps we could start relating to them, thus forming a stronger bond and being more emotionally attached to what is going on throughout the plot of the story.

Figure 7 – Flowers of Evil – Before and after rotoscoping

Thanks to trial and error, animators are learning what works and what styles people latch onto just through experimenting and judging the audience’s reactions. Japan has long since set the industry standard for what a typical anime should like – for example, simplistic facial features, cel shading, large eyes and locations heavily influenced by reality, but in doing so, still deviating every now and then in order to follow the path of originality, albeit a risky path to take, just to see if they can create something new.


Leading on from the topic of change, we as a society now have access to so much more types of technology that simply wasn’t available to animators a century ago. During what some may call the ‘Golden Age’ of anime, animators would spend an absurd amount of time during the work week hand-crafting each and every frame, yet now, we have technology that not only makes it look great, but also animate in a live environment and may even lead us to automatic animation one day. But how does this affect style? 3D and live-tracking can play a big part in this.

Figure 8 – Youtuber Kizuna AI

Youtuber Kizuna AI is perhaps the best example I have come across where live action motion tracking has been used in combination with a 3D character model to create an online show. She is so popular and successful in fact that she almost has 1 million YouTube subscribers as of December 2017. It is easy for us as people to be attracted to pretty things which is just one reason why she has so many followers. We have no idea who it is behind the character playing as Kizuna AI, but the ‘mask’, so to speak, she wears is friendly and charming and in a style that we are already familiar with, so the feelings and experiences we get as we enjoy watching her content comes naturally to us. With this proven method of creating content, it becomes a possibility for non-animators to create their own videos, choose their own angles and characters while deciding on what their character should look like, all while having no prior experience as a professional animator.

This live-action style of producing content to tell a story using motion tracking has also impacted developers in America. In Figure 9, you will see MSQRD (short for masquerade). In this app, users can use their front-facing camera on their mobile device and apply various filters to their face. This of course has been done many other times in applications such as Snapchat and Instagram, but the importance of this technology is the idea of masking our true selves to create video and imagery in which can be used to tell a narrative, even though at this stage it isn’t fully developed, we can easily change who we are depending on what effect we are going for.

Figure 9 – MSQRD app

To bring it back onto the subject of style, how does this come into play with Eastern Asian animation? To give an example of representation of what it means to show something but mean another, in the TV series Bakemonogatari, the main character Koyomi Araragi is fighting, rather poorly, against a concealed female character with a monkey’s arm in a location which is shown to be a giant, destroyed classroom. With the nature of this show being quite unusual right from the get-go, the audience is presented with what would be in any other situation a very graphic and gruesome scene and yet, the animators have shown it in a way that gives off a different feeling. In Figure 10. You will see just a few frames where the colour of Araragai’s blood switches from pink, to green, to blue, to orange before changing back a few more times and finally revealing the colour red before switching colours again for every other shot. We could think of this as being a representation of the character’s denial of pain as some form of a coping mechanism, but it could also be interpreted as a way of the directors normalizing violence in this show to make it appear that in this world of fantasy, dying isn’t actually a big issue to the story. Side note – the main character is an immortal vampire. We could also imagine the decision to switch colours through the eyes of the attacker. It’s easy to associate pleasure with bright shades of colour so perhaps this scene is playing through her vision instead as it’s not blood she’s seeing, it’s something else, something more… fun and abstract, which is then supported by the fact that the attacker, Suruga Kanbaru is an athlete with an energetic personality that has suppressed emotions.

Figure 10 - Bakemonogatari fight scene

Colour is just one of many examples in which helps us tell a story by using metaphors, but like with the Monogatari series, we can also include fantasy and imagination in an attempt to get into the viewer’s mind and to think about certain topics while creating feelings at specific moments in time. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is a film that does exactly that. The movie that went on to inspire Inception is an extremely surreal film that tells the tale of a young woman trying to take back a machine’s ability to enter the minds of therapist’s patients and steal their dreams, thus causing calamity to the nation. During the movie, the viewer is bombarded with visual cues that indicate the idea of a dream. Teleportation through eras, flying, over-populated scenes and people turning into many blue butterflies are some just to name a few.

Figure 11 – Paprika movie poster

The way style is created using fantasy as a gateway allows us, the viewer, to always be thinking what is real and what is fake. It keeps us on our guard and question whether or not the decision the protagonist has made is final. It also means as artists and animators that there is some creative liberty for experimentation. We can have your typical Japanese-inspired style in one scene but then do a total 180 and show art in another scene that was clearly inspired by some of the past art movements of our time, which was the case in the Monogatari series. However, in Paprika, a world where nothing makes sense will obvious result in a style that doesn’t make sense as well. How can a character jump out of a monitor and walk away in the real world? How does another character jump a small rail but trips as the world melts around her? Or how can machinery dance while women with mobile phones for heads march in the street? We don’t know, yet we do at the same time. We know that it could be a dream but we also don’t know when that dream comes to a stop. So the cycle continues.

Being inspired by reality and fantasy can take you in multiple directions when it comes to style and story. In the case of Satoshi Kon, he took it to a place where he did not directly use reality, but instead only was inspired by it. However, in the case of Studio Shaft, they have taken reality and turned it into a style that represents horror in an otherwise normalized 2D world. In Figure 12, you will see a selection of some of the scenes throughout Madoka Magica where photographed textures and patterns have been used to create backgrounds, objects and monsters. In a scenario where a set style has already been established, the viewer is not prepared to see such a strong unfamiliar contrast in mixed media which throws them off the boat a bit. But with this being the original intention, the directors understood that a sudden change in style is a clear signal to indicate danger and a toxic environment which helps get across the point when telling the story.

Figure 12 – Madoka Magica screenshots

The Evolution of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s OP “Kuusou Rumba” on Vimeo is another great example where multiple art mediums have been used to create the style of mixed media in an unsettling and confusing manner.

It should also be noted that Japan has quite the history of strange and unusual things in their culture, so much so that it’s fairly common to come across the phrase ‘Only in Japan’ on the web. Influence plays such a big part in storytelling and visual aesthetics so it would come natural that the surroundings of these artists would have a bit of an effect on their work.

So we know that style in storytelling has an impact based on inspiration through fantasy, but what if instead artists were more inspired by realism? By using locations we are already family with such as Tokyo, London, New York and so on, there is a sense of recognition and familiarity between the viewer and the animation. Add into the mix a style that leans towards the realistic side as oppose to the cartoony side and you get a movie or series that might make you forget it is an anime to begin with. The amount of talent and skill required to pull this off leaves the viewer in awe as they are literally watching paintings come to life before their very eyes. Long windy fields, sunsets on the beach and rainy days in the woods are just a few examples of scenarios that originally only looked beautiful in a static format and within the boundaries of a frame, but for now, until we have developed virtual reality properly, we have 2D and 3D animation to enjoy.

There are four examples I would like to give here – 5 Centimeters per Second, The Garden of Words¸ Children who Chased Lost Voices and Your Name. Each one of these four movies features a familiar style of realism. So real that the references they used looked almost identical. This amount of attention to detail and admiration for the craft gave us photography-level quality artwork that makes us believe that we could actually be a part of their world. Like we do in movies made in Hollywood where there are actors and actresses, we become attached to the roles they play because we know they are real people acting the part quite well. However, that is not the case here. These are fake 2 dimensional beings in a simulated environment. Yet still, for some reason, we can become attached to the characters all the same because of this style of realism and the way we make the same connections during our daily lives. Albeit the characters are no different to any other show in terms of anatomy but even so it is enough for the viewer to feel immersed as the landscapes, cityscapes and general environments make you believe that it was almost real. The reality, however, is that this is almost the case. Photography was used during the development of each of the four films mentioned above to create the most authentic movie possible. In Figure 13, you will see examples of real locations used during the creation process of some of these movies and in Figure 14 you will see how film can be used to recreate fluid character animations.

Figure 13 – Comparison images between 5 Centimetres Per Second, Garden of Words, Your Name and reality
Figure 14 – Behind the scenes of Your Name

With style in animation being so broad, I want to end this section with examples of some other note-worthy series which have used a unique approach to art and animation to help create a narrative in their work: Redline, Ping-Pong the Animation, Tekkonkinkreet, Count of Monte Cristo, The Tatami Galaxy, The Animatrix, Mononoke and Kyousou Giga. Examples of these can be found in Figure 15.

Figure 15 – Screenshots of the shows listed above


To conclude this report, I have learned through research and investigation how Eastern Asian animation came into existence, what had influenced it before it gained popularity and an explanation of where anime is going, how technology has gotten involved along with how it can be used outside of entertainment. I have also learned throughout this report how different styles can have a lasting impact on the way we, the viewer, perceive the actions and decisions told through animation. From using strong photography references that invokes the sense of realism to using mixed media for an unsettling collision of worlds, the style in which directors decide upon has an absolute undeniable power of manipulating our thoughts and feelings of what we watch.


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  1. Wave Motion Cannon. (2017). Konosuba Interview with Koichi Kikuta (Anime Style 009, July 2016). [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].
  2. “Trying to make the composition as realistic as possible is par the course for me, and I always draw layouts with the hopes of bringing out a camera-like or photo-like feel. I did my very best to evoke that with episode 9, but when I looked it up on the internet, people only talked about the boobs. (laughs) Not a single person talked about the layouts. It was devastating.” (Kikuta, 2016)
  3. 12 of the Most Popular Camera Shots all Actors Should Know. (2015). [Blog] New York Film Academy. Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  4. Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works. (2014).Directed by K. Takeshita. Japan: Aniplex.
  5. A frame of the three-second Katsudō Shashin, date and creator unknown. (n.d.). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  6. Donald Duck: Commando Duck 1944. (2009). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
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  10. 【Artificial Intelligence】「Quick,Draw!」Artist showdown!. (2017).Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  11. John-Anyaehle, M. (2016). Masquerade (MSQRD). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  12. Bakemonogatari fight scene: Koyomi vs. Kanbaru. (2013).Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  13. Kon, S. (2006). Paprika. [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].
  14. 5 Centimeters Per Second. (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].
  15. Garden of Words. (2013). [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].


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  9. Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works. (2014).Directed by K. Takeshita. Japan: Aniplex.
  10. A frame of the three-second Katsudō Shashin, date and creator unknown. (n.d.). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  11. Donald Duck: Commando Duck 1944. (2009). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  12. Fletcher, B. (2008). Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  13. Green, S. (2013). VIDEO: A Look at “Flowers of Evil” Before Rotoscoping – UPDATED. [Blog] Crunchyroll. Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  14. 【Artificial Intelligence】「Quick,Draw!」Artist showdown!. (2017).Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  15. John-Anyaehle, M. (2016). Masquerade (MSQRD). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  16. Bakemonogatari fight scene: Koyomi vs. Kanbaru. (2013).Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
  17. Kon, S. (2006). Paprika. [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].
  18. 5 Centimeters Per Second. (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].
  19. Garden of Words. (2013). [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].