Anime Direction and Over-direction – Panning Shots in Grimgar

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. Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash anime Episode 5 - Haruhiro and YumeYes, 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.

9 comments on “Anime Direction and Over-direction – Panning Shots in Grimgar

  1. fgfdfh says:

    Interesting article. It made me think about how some anime directors switch from one medium to another:

    Mamoru Oshii: His anime look amazing, no one can deny that. However, his live action films aren’t as well received. I’ve seen critics from mainstream sites like The Guardian criticized those films for uncanny valley, too stylized and too weird.

    Ikuhara: he is influenced by stage plays, and it shows. His anime are full of repeated scene, constant use of motif and symbolism with abstract dialogue. He adapted those elements pretty successfully into anime, but those series are unlike anything else.

    Hideki Anno: Elements of Tokusatsu are all over his series: the battle against gigantic and increasingly dangerous foe, iconic epic shot, characters struggles, inconsistent story…All of those things exist in previous anime and manga as well, but the way he drew the scenes and told the story has a Toku-ness that I don’t know how to explain. It is obvious once you have seen Toku shows though. Anno is apparently a fan of Sunrise mech anime, and he copied a lot of story ideas from Tomino. He made many live-action movie, all of them are very bizarre.

    • Guy says:

      Bringing things from outside anime to anime is pretty standard. Especially film. Especially as you can see film techniques copied over to manga and western comics as well, but seeing things from anime brought over outside it? That should be different. Heck, I wonder, what things, outside plot, but technique-wise, could I see in a live-action film and go, “That’s very anime-esque”? I truly wonder.

      Also, huh, didn’t know Hideaki Anno directed 3 full-length live-action films, all of them after Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m almost curious enough to watch them.

      And yes, Ikuhara’s works are very Theatre-like, and even bring forth elements from theatre and performances in an overt manner. As for your Mamoru Oshii criticisms, many are also relevant for his anime films, so I’m not surprised. I mean, check out The Clone Returns Home, a Japanese live-action film where my thought was, “Tries too hard to be a French film,” and that’s certainly something that I thought of The Sky Crawlers, for instance.

      But food for thought, definitely, on how anime-directors later take to live action series, or films.

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        could I see in a live-action film and go, “That’s very anime-esque”?

        Isn’t some of that due to our current time? That is, that animated cinematography has already largely been folded into live-action filming, as camera and CGI technology has improved.
        The primary case of using anime camerawork was The Matrix, which revolutionized how action scenes could be shot, but which means that most mainstream actions films made since have incorporated some of those techniques.
        The other film that notably used anime aesthetic was Scott Pilgrim. (I don’t remember enough of Sucker Punch to know whether its action was anime-esque, or just an extension of Snyder’s style)

        But I could very easily see what the manga version of Guardians of the Galaxy would be like. I can kind of see what a KyoAni rendition of it would be like, too.

        Finally, I’ve found that the TV show Chuck is essentially a magical girlfriend anime, steeped in general geekery. Very stylized, and the cinematography primarily aping the spy genre, but I do think there are some bits that used elements that could also be found in anime. (mostly the BuyMore segments, which tend to be more heightened reality and stylized to contrast its SoL setting.)

        • Guy says:

          I’m not talking about plots and premises, where anything anime has was done in the west before (if you want to see a Light Novel, check out David Eddings’s The Belgariad series, it even has a small tsundere for you). And I don’t really agree with you on Chuck, it’s more a standard procedural crazy-science. Yes, it’s very much like Samurai Pizza Cats, but also like any western comic I can think of from the past two decades, or The A-Team, or Renegades, or… you get the drift.

          About cinematography, can you find me an anime that does what The Matrix has done, and prior? If anything, I know of this sort of thing to originate in Hong Kong wire-fu films.

          And CG usually doesn’t represent techniques, but is used in techniques. Explosions generated via CG for instance aren’t a technique, it just changes how explosions looked up to that point.

          The Matrix bullet-time example is interesting, but I don’t buy it. More examples would be nice, but I’d be surprised if anything anime has in this regard wasn’t actually present in western live action films earlier, just not good-looking, due to special effects not being good enough at the time.

        • For what it’s worth, I think that anime consistently composes things differently than live action does. This is less using different sorts of shots or camerawork and more using the same collection of cinematic tools but in a different ratio. Grimgar’s panning shots illustrate this nicely; I don’t think a live action version would do this anywhere near as much as Grimgar does, and if it did it would feel odd. Another difference I’ve noticed is the ratio of long shots versus closeups in character focused scenes (either dialog or just reaction shots).

  2. Grimgar has a lot of very pretty backgrounds, but does it have much actual animation? Panning shots are the classical ‘no animation needed’ time fillers, and perhaps that is a large part of why Grimgar is using them here; either to minimize animation needs or to save a limited amount of animation firepower for moments where it really matters, such as fights. That would make it less a stylistic choice on the director’s part and more a necessary one.

    • Guy says:

      That would make it less a stylistic choice on the director’s part and more a necessary one.

      That it is used also as a time-saving tool is indeed the case, and an obvious thing. But when you reduce your answer to this, you overlook the obvious question, which I actually raised in the piece itself – why not keep the shot static? Why not rely on small fidgeting?

      The first segment in the video above showcases something that is gained by the pan. It’s a long while before Ranta speaks up, and there’s still some time of silence after the pan ends. The pan allows us to see how he does stop, after he hitches the sword on his back, before he actually opens his mouth. It’s a contrast. And later, when we see Haruhiro look into his cup, I left the after/before pan moments there on purpose, to show how we move from a pan to a fidget-only moment.

      Other shows, such as OreGairu S2, use far less pans, and rely much more on focusing on just the limbs, and just a small fidget.

      All of these accomplish the same meta-goal of cutting down on animation time, but the choice of the pan is just that, a choice, which deserves looking at. And even amongst all the choices that do something to avoid a static scene, the choice of a static shot is also a choice. There are other options.

      As to your other question, after the first episode, the amount of animation in Grimgar has been going down, no questions about it. But even in a show that looks much smoother, such as BokuMachi, much of the “great shots” are static, and rely on angle and colour composition.

      Creativity is often born out of constraints. Accepting that it’s born out of constraints rather than burgeoning creativity isn’t the final step, but the first.

  3. […] but the show proper continues to be extremely good in many different ways. Guy over at Geekorner wrote an interesting piece this week on Grimgar‘s direction, which actually expresses some of the things I both like […]

  4. Me-Mania says:

    Consider this your mandatory reminder that the peerless Ryo-timo was wholly responsible for that cut from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time—he actually had someone film him from a car as he ran down the street to serve as reference material.

    As for Nakamura, I think we need to be careful in distinguishing his pacing from his attitude towards animation. The man is in love with great character animation, as the attention he lavished on this insanely exquisite cut from Aiura thoroughly demonstrates, and I have no doubt that Grimgar would eschew stills altogether if he had the time and money to do what he really wanted. Nakamura is absolutely an animation man, through and through—it’s just that his pacing is very, very relaxed, in a way I think especially compliments Grimgar, setting it firmly apart from the slew of other series with identical premises and allowing emotional subtleties to usurp plot as the driving force of the action.

    (Then again, I admit I may be the only person in the universe to whom “plotless slice-of-life in a high-fantasy world” sounds like the greatest thing ever.)

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