The lateral tracking shot and I have had several encounters lately, particularly in Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED in English), where the use of the lateral tracking shot by director Itou Tomohiko, to symbolize a specific aspect of a time-travel story, where the protagonist pushes his way from out of the frame back in, clawing their way to victory over the frame itself, over time, reminded me of its use in Hosoda Mamoru’s film, where Tomohiko was the assistant director. The lateral tracking shot has more good uses, which you can check in Every Frame’s a Painting video on the subject, focusing on another of Hosoda Mamoru’s films, Wolf Children. Here’s a video showcasing the moment I’m speaking of in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:
The rest of this piece will be about the direction in Grimgar in general, and some musings on the Lateral Tracking Shot, which in this show is more often a “panning” shot. I’ll make use of moments from episode 5 of Grimgar, so there might be some scant spoilers for it in the form of an untranslated video segment.
Nakamura Ryousuke, Grimgar’s director, shouldn’t be directing anime series. He should be directing National Geographic movies, or “This Wonderful World” episodes, or perhaps live-action movies, or series. This is mostly praise, as he feels overqualified as a director for anime series, at least until such time as 45 minute episodes become the norm as they are in western live-action non-comedies. But it’s only mostly praise, as it does feel as if his very noticeable touch and care for pacing and small moments is not only constrained by what the medium he’s working in allows for and expects, but also as if he’s not giving the material the best treatment it deserves, even as he gives it even better treatment. I know it sounds contradictory, but the quiet and careful moments, and the very slow-pacing, even as it augments the show as a drama, and even as the visceral horror directing augments the fights with the goblins, they still harm some of the other things the show’s going for, such as its story, and some of the moments involving, say, Ranta, or where the whole group is together. Where the show keeps breathing slowly, even if it calls for more humor.
Following is a compilation of all the panning shots in episode 5 of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Hai to Sensou no Grimgar), without subtitles. I sometimes left a few more seconds in some segments to show how it remains static before or after the pan, to show how else it could’ve been. Some spoilers for the episode, especially if you understand Japanese:
This episode had been absolutely drowning in panning shots, even more than other episodes in the series thus far. One thing these panning shots accomplish is giving us numerous opportunities to gaze at Yume’s body (slightly less so in this particular episode), but what do they do besides that? Why are they there? And I don’t think it’s merely for fan-service in this case. I think this is a way to try and keep the show engaging visually, while most of what’s going on is “talking heads”, one character talking for a couple of minutes, or a couple of characters talking for 5 or more minutes. These intimate and static moments should be all about the words spoken, but the panning shots, or focus on characters’ hands or feet or whatever can help us see how they feel as they converse, at ease, or fidgeting to show us their unease. But unlike Hyouka, for instance, the body-language conveyed in such cuts or panning shots in Grimgar is pretty static, so I’m left thinking that it is just to keep our minds busy, and anime viewers non-bored as the characters talk like real people, and talk, for a length of time, without constantly cutting to other things.
In this episode, in the segments shown above, the scenes are especially static in the first 30 seconds. In the 12 seconds that follow with Haruhiro’s twitching eye, it’s very clearly a deliberate design to add something to the scene by adding the pan, but is it needed? 42 seconds in, with the panning shots in the tavern, half of it is to engender a sense of location, and because Grimgar has very nice backgrounds that the show wants to showcase. Yes, it’s also contrasting between how lively the rest of the tavern-goers are, but how much of it is to give us more to look at as those three keep talking? This is a case where it’s put to good use though, as is Renji’s introduction, and the sense of movement that accompanies it, as all eyes focus on those new figures sweeping into the room. But the episode’s most important scene, of Yume and Haruhiro in the scene, that felt like the director doing anything in their power to avoid having a static scene, or using small gestures to convey emotions, if necessary.
What about live-action series, how do they deal with these issues? There aren’t constant panning movements there, right? So how do the directors keep us interested? Well, first and foremost, the directors trust that the drama, that the characters and what they have to say interests us enough that not only do we not need to be given other things to keep us interested, but that the more “interesting stuff” they add, they actually detract from the scene itself. I mean, showing us Yume’s ass and chest as she and Haruhiro discuss their feelings with one another isn’t going to augment the emotional core of what they’re talking about, but detract from it.
The other element is something Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping revealed by over-emphasizing. In live-action, the small motions of people as they move, or even stand and talk, such as simply their act of breathing, keeps a scene from being static. In anime, everything you see must be thought of, but it also means that sometimes in an attempt to make sure we see more than a bland unmoving picture, a director will overshoot the mark, and content that shines for its naturalistic treatment of conversation and depiction of how people interact and feel, feels very artificial in the composition of the scenes wrapping said content.