Computer-Generated Imagery, also known as CGI, has become a very common practice in audiovisual productions. To put it simply, Computer-Generated Imagery is the usage of computer graphics to create (or contribute to) animated images. The possibilities made available through computer animation have expanded the limits of works of fiction, allowing to create stunning images and special effects that make everything look more real than ever.
One of the most common debates on CGI in recent years is its usage in anime. The big difference between anime and other audiovisual productions is that anime is drawn in 2 dimensions. Watching CGI clash with 2D drawing can often come off as awkward, conflicting and off-putting. In the world of animation, PIXAR and Dreamworks are active producers of 3D cartoons, and even Disney has switched from 2D drawings to create 3D movies, but the anime industry hasn’t undergone that transition. Aside from the aesthetic results, among the arguments for disliking the usage of CGI in anime is that skipping the traditional hand-drawn animation is pure laziness.
The anime industry is in a strange place right now. Countless series are being released every year, and yet very few are making profit. Good quality animation is very expensive and takes a lot of time to produce, so the fact that some studios might turn to CGI for specific scenes is more than understandable. There’s no denying that there’s been a considerable increase in CGI anime. In the past couple years we have had full-on CGI productions like God Eater or Knights of Sidonia, and more series are starting to use CGI for specific scenes or backgrounds. This winter season we have Ajin or Bubuki Buranki, and the highly anticipated return of Berserk will be made in CGI as well.
The truth is, well-made CGI anime exists. Some series use CGI only for specific scenes or for backgrounds (Attack on Titan, Seraph of the End…), while others are fully made with this technique like Ajin or Knights of Sidonia (in fact, many Sci-Fi/Mecha anime use CGI) and with pretty good results too:
The problem appears when CGI is used either badly, or for no reason whatsoever. There are countless examples of bad CGI (Golgo 13, Tokyo Ravens, Fate/Stay Night…). You know the CGI is bad when you actually notice it and it distracts you from whatever else is going on. If CGI doesn’t blend well with the rest of the art and animation, it diminishes the immersion experience. CGI is supposed to enhance the animation quality and viewing experience, not to distract you from the story. After all, we don’t like to be reminded that the story we are so invested in is fake, right?
Another reason to dislike CGI is when it’s added for no reason. As in, to animate boobs. For real. It’s also very common to use this technique to duplicate background characters, as recently seen in the first minutes of the first episode of Haruchika, or in the marines of the latest One Piece special. Misusage of CGI on fanservice or using it due to laziness can sometimes put off a viewer even more than bad CGI. If the studio doesn’t really care about the quality of the series, why should you?
CGI is a great tool, but it has to be used well and for the right reasons. CGI in Sci-Fi/Mecha where robot fights and big explosions are everywhere is understandable, but there’s no need to use CGI on boobs in a Slice of Life anime. Sometimes it’s even a matter of taste or even of how old you are. People who grew up with hand-drawn Disney movies might prefer 2D animation while millennials might be more tolerant of CGI because they grew up with 3D Pixar movies. I don’t think we are talking about a “transition” per se in the anime industry, though. I do believe that 2D isn’t going anywhere (studio Ghibli keeps proving that wonderful things can be done with only 2 dimensions), but it cannot be denied that CGI is here to stay.