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Old 2013-03-17, 20:28   Link #1
Akito Kinomoto
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Art/animation and sound in anime: "fanservice is tl;dr."*

Lately I've been musing over how much the technical strengths or weaknesses of an anime can influence how much we enjoy it. My like or dislike for a show used to be dictated more by its literary elements like characters or story than its appearance or audio. But in hindsight it's counterintuitive since anime is a visual medium; judging a work solely on its writing is better suited for a book (or light novels to keep with the context of the topic).

Of course, there needs to be a marriage between an anime's technical and literary parts. The problem is how some shows can seemingly remain intact on its writing alone when the art/animation and audio is removed while other shows fall apart without its technical support. Is the latter necessarily a worse show for not holding together without its appearance and sound or is it actually taking advantage of what can be done in a visual medium that cannot be accomplished in a book?

What's your take on the subject? How much does art/animation and sound influence your enjoyment?

*One day I was reading the Strawberry Panic! light novels when I thought wait a minute. Why am I wasting my time reading yuri when I can get my fix a thousand times faster by watching the anime?
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Old 2013-03-18, 00:55   Link #2
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Well, to me at least, interesting writing is what props up a show. However, bad production values or crappy visuals will hurt an anime because it gives off the impression of it being half assed. Which is why I'm not a particularly big fan of Shaft.

On the other hand, Kyoani and similar tend to get passes even if the material isn't as engaging.
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Old 2013-03-18, 04:35   Link #3
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Broadly speaking, there's three quality levels of writing.

1) Excellent writing. Great story with great characters.

2) Ok writing. Simple story, but told competently.

3) Spectacularly bad writing. Loaded with plot holes and/or loads of unlikeable characters.


Visual, audio, and directorial strengths are most important with my 2nd category. This can turn a show from mediocre to very good, or from good to excellent. VRO is probably a good recent example of this. VRO's plot isn't terribly complex (at least not at the three quarter mark), and while its characters are endearing and likeable, they're not terribly complex either. VRO's story is competent, but it's not "standout". Nonetheless, VRO has a superb combination of visuals and BGM that simply amps the "fun factor" all the way up. It also adds a lot to the drama and emotionally poignancy of the work. The net effect is a solidly above average anime show, imo.

Does this mean that VRO is just as good as an anime with a much better story but with inferior visuals/audio? Yes, it might mean that. Visual and audio quality are valid factors in not only the overall enjoyability of the work, but also in how much it resonates with us at an emotional level. Bad directing can greatly undermine the emotional punch that really ought to come with the more inspired bits of writing. So we shouldn't undervalue the impact of good directing.


That being said, all the flashy visuals and Hollywood movie caliber-audio in the world will not save a show in my 3rd category. Great visuals/audio can effectively paper over truly horrible writing for only a very limited time.
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Old 2013-03-18, 04:36   Link #4
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Film is an audiovisual medium- the visual components are the literary components, so are the audio components. Even more, in animation this is more pronounced because every little thing your eyes see has been created from scratch, arranged and composited by someone. It's not simply using a camera to capture the real- it's translating the images of the mind into a screen.

The audiovisual components will make or break a show, as simple as that. They are the sole thing relaying information to the viewer (the dialogue, the arranging and continuity of the screen and the expressions of the characters being the more notable aspects). You can't have a story in animation without at the bare minimum one image that conveys it.

Of course most viewers will later dissect the product and analyse the story in a vacuum, and the "production" in a vicinity. This works for most commercial shows because no real thought is put into the craft of the show besides making sure the viewer has a clue what the events happening on the screen are. More medium-conscious works will have a story that is, ultimately, inseparable from the way it is told- and those are the ones that stand out the most and get the most critical acclaim, because they make the best possible use of the medium.
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Old 2013-03-18, 04:46   Link #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Triple_R View Post
Broadly speaking, there's three quality levels of writing.

1) Excellent writing. Great story with great characters.

2) Ok writing. Simple story, but told competently.

3) Spectacularly bad writing. Loaded with plot holes and/or loads of unlikeable characters.
With all due respect, as an editor, I call bullsh*t on such arbitrary categories of quality.

Quality spreads across a spectrum from good to bad. It's not necessarily linear (it may well be multi-dimensional). And sure doesn't come in discrete quantities. That's even before you consider the subjectivity of interpretation. Is it even possible to define the universal line that divides mediocrity from competence, competence from excellence?

Such categories work only for the purpose of critique and discussion, which ought to be as broad as possible in the first place and not restricted to narrowly defined values of quality.

As for the original question, I agree with Warm Mist. Anime is first and foremost an audio-visual medium. Animation doesn't even need a script to tell a heartwarming story, as the Oscar-winning short Paperman amply demonstrates.

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Old 2013-03-18, 05:32   Link #6
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Maybe a few months ago, I would have soundly disagreed with you, A_K, but I understand a bit more now how important visuals are for anime.

It's true that I watch and enjoy countless anime that I consider to have sub-par animation or art, and I end up enjoying them greatly for other reasons e.g. the story. Actually, a lot of anime that I appreciate visually have "terrible" animation from certain perspectives. Characters slide in and out of the screen with no movement of limbs as if they were on ice. Most of the time, they don't have jaws and talking is done through mouth flaps. Frames are limited to 12 per second or less. These are well-honed and traditional animation shortcuts perpetuated in Japanese animation for many decades.

As someone who has watched a lot of anime, I've learned to overlook these shortcuts for the most part and focus on other visual qualities, which include cinematography, key frames, art style, character designs, detail, shading, and color. If an anime came out that had a great story, but couldn't do a good job with any of these visual qualities, I would frankly have a tough time enjoying it.

So yes, visuals are very important in my overall assessment of an anime, but animation alone isn't except in the most egregious cases.

Now, one recent anime that I thought has done an exceptional job of complementing the story and characters with its visuals is Hyouka. The characters are brilliantly animated, with their own unique body movements and facial expressions that help to flesh out their personalities and make the viewer understand them all the more. The verbal explanations of the mysteries are accompanied by fluid, colorful animations that helped hammer the revelations into viewers who can't afford to pause their TV to understand everything. Would I have liked Hyouka if it was animated on a smaller budget by a "lesser" studio like AIC instead of Kyoto Animation? Probably, since the characters and story hold up quite well in my opinion. But I certainly wouldn't have liked it nearly as much as I like KyoAni's version.
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Old 2013-03-18, 06:21   Link #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
With all due respect, as an editor, I call bullsh*t on such arbitrary categories of quality.
Sometimes you have to generalize and/or simplify things in order to clarify a point (consider the often-cited Sturgeon's Law, for example). While this generalizing and/or simplifying will certainly cause there to be exceptions to an argument, it also makes clear where the argument applies.

Guilty Crown is a show with exceptional visuals and an exceptional OST. However, it also is a show that has been widely bashed and hated on for the perceived weaknesses in its writing quality. That shows that there is a limit to how much audio/visual quality can cover up perceived writing weaknesses.

Nonetheless, there are some anime shows that garner much more positive attention for their visuals and/or their BGM/seiyu work than for their writing quality. A lot of these have generally Ok writing, but their stories would not look that impressive as just a script on paper. Visual and audio quality are obviously major difference-makers for these anime shows.


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Such categories work only for the purpose of critique and discussion,
And that's the extent to how I'm using these categories here on this thread.

Any serious rating system would have a scale greater than just 1 to 3. I don't deny that.

Perhaps it would have been better if I had explicitly used a Bell Curve analogy for my three categories. You can think of the 1st and 3rd categories as being the extreme ends of the Bell Curve of writing quality in anime. The 2nd category is the great mass of shows that fall between those extreme ends, and yes, there definitely is a significant range of quality variation within that 2nd category.


Quote:
As for the original question, I agree with Warm Mist. Anime is first and foremost an audio-visual medium.
So do you think that writing quality is completely unimportant to the quality of an anime show?


Quote:
Animation doesn't even need a script to tell a heartwarming story,
Even if so, such animation is very much atypical. The vast, vast majority of anime shows have scripts.

If we're going to talk about the role that art/animation and sound applies to anime as a whole, I think it's more productive and instructive to focus on the overwhelming majority of anime shows that have scripts.
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Old 2013-03-18, 06:34   Link #8
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I think one needs to define what this "literary" aspect means first. I get the feeling every one of the posters above me have different versions of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Warm-Mist
Film is an audiovisual medium- the visual components are the literary components, so are the audio components. Even more, in animation this is more pronounced because every little thing your eyes see has been created from scratch, arranged and composited by someone. It's not simply using a camera to capture the real- it's translating the images of the mind into a screen.
This guy seems to treat both the audio and visual components as "literary", on basis that they're all "scripted", from scratch. So does "directing" go in the literary aspect?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiny_Red_Leaf
As for the original question, I agree with Warm Mist. Anime is first and foremost an audio-visual medium. Animation doesn't even need a script to tell a heartwarming story, as the Oscar-winning short Paperman amply demonstrates.
OTOH this guy seems to mean "script" as the dialog book.

I was confused why TRL was agreeing with Warm Mist because I see a discrepancy. Or is it just me?
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Old 2013-03-18, 06:50   Link #9
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I think that Warm Mist and TRL are talking about the animation equivalent of cinematography.

And yes, in fairness, you can tell a story with nothing more than cinematography (as seen by the Silent Era in movies, think Charlie Chaplin).

However, even with great cinematography (or the anime equivalent thereof), I think it's possible to evaluate the writing quality of a work in a vacuum (presuming it has dialogue). Although, in fairness, it does make it a bit harder.
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Old 2013-03-18, 07:54   Link #10
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So do you think that writing quality is completely unimportant to the quality of an anime show?
No, I'm saying that the script, where it exists, must serve the animation and not the other way round.

This is something, I realise, that is lost on most anime fans, but it's something that most animators are keenly aware of. I was made aware of it only after extensive conversation with a childhood friend who is a producer at his own animation studio, one of only a handful in Singapore that survived past its foundation years.

What is the point of having a brilliant screenplay if it doesn't allow animators to do something special with it? You might as well create a live-action drama. Why bother with animation?

If you listen to interviews with professional animators, you'll frequently find them coming unconsciously to the same point. Mamoru Hosoda could have made a movie about a hardworking single mother bringing up two kids. But why should such a story be an animated movie and not a live drama? What would be the special quality that makes it viable for animation and no other medium? After mulling over it, he finally struck on the idea to cast the children as half-human, half-wolves. Hence, Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki.

Think also about the movies of Satoshi Kon. Most of them are great stories in their own right, but what makes them special as animation? They're special because Kon used animation to blur the lines between reality and fantasy without breaking the suspension of disbelief — a strength of animation that still isn't fully possible in live-action films, because there will always come a point when your mind will automatically recognise visual spectacles that are too good to be real.

To be sure, this isn't a new point. I've been trying to drive home this message time and again. If you enjoy anime simply for its stories, you need to ask why you bother with animation. You might as well read a book or a manga. After all, most fans will always say that the literary source provides the better story.

So, yes indeed, why experience a story in animated form? It can't be just for the story. It's for the animation. It's for the chance to witness a group of creators attempting to bring imagination to life, free from the boundaries that constrain live-action acting.

Hence, I say again: Where anime and animation is concerned, the script serves the animation, and not the other way round. If the animation is horrid, no amount of good writing will save it as an animation project.
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Old 2013-03-18, 08:13   Link #11
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
No, I'm saying that the script, where it exists, must serve the animation and not the other way round.
I support the idea that an anime script ought to include at least some instances which lend themselves to animators doing something special with it.

That being said, I can't help but wonder what your arguments would make of the anime version of Usagi Drop. Usagi Drop's animation/art style has a certain softness and distinctiveness to it, but after awhile, the viewer will probably get used to it. It might seem somewhat "normal" then. I can't recall many notable animation flourishes in Usagi Drop. All of the above being said, I enjoyed Usagi Drop and found it a rewarding story. I'm glad there's an anime version of it.
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Old 2013-03-18, 08:37   Link #12
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That being said, I can't help but wonder what your arguments would make of the anime version of Usagi Drop. Usagi Drop's animation/art style has a certain softness and distinctiveness to it, but after awhile, the viewer will probably get used to it. It might seem somewhat "normal" then. I can't recall many notable animation flourishes in Usagi Drop. All of the above being said, I enjoyed Usagi Drop and found it a rewarding story. I'm glad there's an anime version of it.
The animators would be heartbroken by your shallow assessment of their efforts. Or perhaps not, because the overall artistic direction in Usagi Drop was for subtle softness, to bring alive the nostalgia and child's eye view of the world. Certain decisions were made, like the water-colour opening scenes of each episode, for example, in accordance with the overarching artistic theme.

More importantly, it was a good stab at artistic originality in a project that didn't give animators much room to innovate. I think that's deserving of more credit than you apparently think it is worth.

It's effective animation precisely because it elicits emotion without screaming for attention. Is it brilliant animation though? I would hesitate to call it that. To use Mamoru Hosoda as an example again, take a closer look at his characters' facial expressions and body language in Okami Kodomo, to get an appreciation of just how little it takes to convey depth of emotion.

Usagi Drop had to fall back on all the other elements of anime to express the same depth of meaning. So, while I'll readily agree that it was a good anime, I'll add that you'll want to read the manga to get the full and arguably more robust story, since that is apparently what draws you to the title. (Critics horrified by its allegedly controversial ending be damned. Read the manga and make up your own mind about its conclusuon.)

EDIT:
One more point, since I broached the line of argument: Usagi Drop the anime is substantially different from its manga source, because the anime's writers had to pay constant attention to the limitations imposed by an episodic 25-minute format. Things from the source had to be left out, while other parts not clearly elaborated in the manga were built upon in the anime, where animation could make a stronger point.

These editorial decisions created the anime you so enjoyed. Yet, if the production committee listened to those rabid fans who demand frame-by-frame fidelity between a manga and its anime adaptation, Usagi Drop would have failed as an animation project.

So, think again upon what I said. In animation, the script serves its medium, and not the other way round. An effective anime script is one that allows animators to play to their strengths. To adapt an anime exactly the way it appears in a manga title is, to me, a sign of laziness and a sure recipe for adaptation failure.

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Old 2013-03-18, 10:33   Link #13
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
The animators would be heartbroken by your shallow assessment of their efforts.
I wasn't assessing the efforts of the animators. Usagi Drop probably took a lot of work. I'm only assessing the end product itself (i.e. the artstyle/animation).


Quote:
More importantly, it was a good stab at artistic originality in a project that didn't give animators much room to innovate.
Agreed.


Quote:
I think that's deserving of more credit than you apparently think it is worth.
I never said that wasn't deserving of much credit. In fact, I think that the Usagi Drop animators deserve much credit for the work they did.

My main point is this - Usagi Drop was a very well-received anime back in 2011. Many people loved it. It received a lot of praise.

And yet, it's script doesn't leave much room for innovative animation flourishes. I think it's fair to say that Usagi Drop's success had as much to do with its writing quality (i.e. its characters and plot) as it has to do with the animation/audio side of thing.

Yes, those scripting an anime should not lose sight of the fact that they're scripting an anime. For anime with other medium-based source material, that will indeed call for editing work. And yes, sometimes fans don't appreciate this enough (I find this to be particularly true of unified format VN adaptations).

Nonetheless, I don't think we should take a very limited view towards what types of scripts and stories can work well in an animated medium.
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Old 2013-03-18, 11:15   Link #14
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I've read somewhere that much of anime analysis/review treats it like a book when it would be much more appropriate to treat it more as film. It's a sentiment that I find ever more convincing - you'd never try to interpret a film without examining what the director is trying to tell us using visual imagery and sound cues, so why should it be any different with anime? For the enjoyment part, I'm not still as good at discerning the visual aspect of anime as I'd like, but it's something that matters more and more.

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Originally Posted by Archon_Wing View Post
Well, to me at least, interesting writing is what props up a show. However, bad production values or crappy visuals will hurt an anime because it gives off the impression of it being half assed. Which is why I'm not a particularly big fan of Shaft.
Hah!

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On the other hand, Kyoani and similar tend to get passes even if the material isn't as engaging.
I'd agree with the exception of that awful OP for Chuuni. I haven't been able to see out of my right eye ever since.
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Old 2013-03-18, 11:22   Link #15
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I've read somewhere that much of anime analysis/review treats it like a book when it would be much more appropriate to treat it more as film.
This I agree with.

I think that the "cinematography" of anime often doesn't get enough notice. The way you frame characters during pivotal scenes - The choice to do facial close-ups at key moments - the choice of which characters to focus on from one plot-relevant moment to the next. All of this is just as important in anime as it is in film, imo.
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Old 2013-03-18, 11:54   Link #16
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Animation and scripting get a lot of focus from people but I find music in anime to be sort of a rare focus that is more important in establishing the proper mood and vibe of a scene than is often given credit for. There's so many shows (mostly drama but also sci-fi/military/action) that I don't think would be anywhere near as enjoyable with a more phoned in soundtrack. Its something that simply cannot be underestimated but often is when there isn't one of the more popular names like Kajiura behind it. In fact if its not Kajiura I just find that BGM rarely enters the discussion for anime period which is a shame.

Also I think its very important to distinguish between animation and cinematography a bit more still. To me animation is a process while cinematography is a craft or talent that can make even still imagery come to life with its own vibrance and personality. For example while I find something like Love Live or Tamako Market have good crisp animation with often noticeably above average FPS for a tv show I don't think they have all that gripping direction and eye for cinematic excellence to most of the scene whereas something like Lupin III:Fujiko, Shin Sekai Yori, Jojo's Bizarre adventure or Zetsuen no Tempest which I'm just finishing up has some of the better use of symbolic imagery and visual direction I've seen all this year and last that make for some uniquely gripping viewing.
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Old 2013-03-18, 12:58   Link #17
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Originally Posted by 4Tran View Post
I've read somewhere that much of anime analysis/review treats it like a book when it would be much more appropriate to treat it more as film. It's a sentiment that I find ever more convincing - you'd never try to interpret a film without examining what the director is trying to tell us using visual imagery and sound cues, so why should it be any different with anime? For the enjoyment part, I'm not still as good at discerning the visual aspect of anime as I'd like, but it's something that matters more and more.
This is an interesting point well because I am a reviewer after all .

Indeed in film you often see comments about a director's vision, or an actor's performance. I think with acting it is a bit hard to discern the quality of a voice acting performance often when you are not a native speaker. As for directing, if the director is notable they are often talked about (At least I do). But even if the director isn't directly mentioned, I do believe people at least talk indirectly about his decisions.

However, there is also the consideration that so many anime works today are adaptions. The director, while not unimportant by any stretch of the imagination, is typically working with someone else's vision. Especially as it pertains to manga and light novels, the story's vision is theirs and not the creators. Typically when directors mess with a source material, we have seen less than impressive results.

I will not deny though that your average review that you'd find on somewhere like MAL is complete garbage. They don't have any scope in their writing and don't understand how to structure a review at all. Their scope is incredibly limited, and most of the time they focus mainly on the characters and nothing more.
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Old 2013-03-18, 13:43   Link #18
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I'd agree with the exception of that awful OP for Chuuni. I haven't been able to see out of my right eye ever since.
I have no idea what you're talking about. *shot* But yea, I can't remember it very well at all.
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Old 2013-03-18, 14:04   Link #19
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However, there is also the consideration that so many anime works today are adaptions. The director, while not unimportant by any stretch of the imagination, is typically working with someone else's vision. Especially as it pertains to manga and light novels, the story's vision is theirs and not the creators. Typically when directors mess with a source material, we have seen less than impressive results.
I don't buy this argument because a large number of critically acclaimed movies are either straight adaptations or new takes on older material. I'm not even talking about obscure works either - Argo, the Life of Pi and Les Miserable were all nominated for the Oscar this year. In anime, many of the adaptations we're familiar with are aired on TV. Since TV has such tight budgets and schedules, it's not at all unusual for them to fail. Anime movies and OVAs would fare much better even if they deviate from the source material. The creative staffs of the latter simply have more money and time to iron out exactly what they want to do with the work.

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I will not deny though that your average review that you'd find on somewhere like MAL is complete garbage. They don't have any scope in their writing and don't understand how to structure a review at all. Their scope is incredibly limited, and most of the time they focus mainly on the characters and nothing more.
I'm not just referring to a standard review, but things like in-depth examinations of the language of film/anime and how scenes are composed. Here's an example from the film world: http://www.openculture.com/2011/12/a...ion_scene.html

This kind of material is almost non-existent for anime in the English-language world. The main exception is when Anipages writes something up or the very occassional piece like this: http://scenesofdespair.tumblr.com/po...-close-reading

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I have no idea what you're talking about. *shot* But yea, I can't remember it very well at all.
It's one of those ultimate "should we be actually doing this to our audience?" moments. I hope that Kyoto Animation has learned their lesson.
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Old 2013-03-18, 14:34   Link #20
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I'l make it short: the script is the foundation, without a good one you can't build anything solid but also just because you have a nice one doesn't mean the end result will be good, that all depends on what you build on top of it ( storyboarding,chara design,animation,OST,backround art,voice acting,photography etc....)

Also want to mention that a script is different from dialogue , Paperman most definitely has a script, or to take another example the illusionist has almost no dialogue but it has a script (sidenote: I hate it when trailers for "foreign films" throw in a gazillion critic quotes).
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