A matter of aesthetics…

Both as personal preference, as well as a reviewer, I tend to take the characters and plot of an anime pretty seriously. The visual style of an anime cannot make up for a lack of story, development, and execution – the audio/visual aspects of an anime can probably have, at its maximum, an impact of maybe one or two points. That being said, sometimes I like to just sit back and be stunned by amazing visuals and audio, and it’s a visceral part of the viewing enjoyment. While I’m wallowing in this state of ephemeral enjoyment, the question always subconsciously pops up in my mind: which makes more of an impact, the audio or the video? This is a dilemma that I’ve noticed present in some of the best anime in terms of production values. Is this inane, and am I nitpicking about small details too much? Probably. That being said, let’s briefly look into this conundrum.

A prime example of audio taking precedence over visuals is Air Gear, an anime I’ve just finished watching (review forthcoming) and the image for this post. The reason I picked out Air Gear is, aside from its gorgeous visuals, has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever listened to in an anime to date. I don’t use this lightly, for Air Gear’s music is not only extremely catchy and high-quality, but also fitting as well. The techno beats and synthetic pop mix lightly with the urban-futuristic theme, and as a result I found myself stylistically appealed to the anime, and was completely neglecting to look at the, admittedly excellent, animation. I found the same situation visually in Honey and Clover – the glossy animation and soft color scheme was completely forgotten about at times by the amazing audio of the series. Between the intense drama and excellent music that fit the mood perfectly, I completely neglected the utterly beautiful animation that transcended most anime altogether.

However, when I stop to think about it, the conundrum is that I can’t recall (besides one notable exception) any anime which I’ve found to have superb audio but average to below-average animation, or vice-versa. This is probably a victim of logistics, as when money is pumped into one side of the anime, the other side gets equal treatment to ensure that the investment isn’t wasted at all – after all, if there’s only one part of the solution the audience is bound to focus on the negative and thus they lose the appeal altogether. The sole exclusion to this is Narutaru – while the character designs were extremely questionable, and the animation inconsistent and at times downright ugly, the primitive and creepy music kept tensions high during its most gruesome and shocking moments. While I’ve found the aural qualities of the anime pretty much make up for the dreadful animation, I don’t have an anime with a great visual appeal but a lacking soundtrack – and this inconsistency makes it extremely hard to compare the two attributes on a level scale.

For now anyway, audio is the winner of this admittedly lopsided analysis. However, this could probably be due to my personal bias as well, as this is coming from the guy with gigantic speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer watching anime from his computer monitor. That being said, more analysis is clearly needed, and more anime is necessary to compare. I haven’t seen close to all the anime that’s out there, and I never will – however, the more I watch, the more I’m certain I will come to achieving the solution to this puzzle. That being said, however, I’m still going to plug Air Gear’s soundtrack, as it truly is one of the best, if not the best, in terms of anime soundtracks in my opinion. Check it out – it’s really that good.

3 Responses to “A matter of aesthetics…”

  1. I haven’t quite listened to the soundtrack, but now I’ll have to! Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. Fate/Stay Night instantly comes to mind as an anime with a grand soundtrack and problematic animation (although the animation in that wasn’t so much “bad” as it was “inconsistent”). Arguably Kannaduki no Miko as well, although it’s been too long since I’ve seen that, so I can’t remember if the animation was average or not, but the soundtrack was incredible.

    Anyway, I think audio is easier to praise since it’s most noticeable when it’s good and complements a scene to evoke some sort of emotion. Past the first episode, one generally doesn’t notice animation unless it’s inconsistent or bad.

  3. Personally, I believe that neither audio or visual is inherently more noticeable. Only when one absolutely trumps the expected norm does it become noticeable.

    I doubt you can remember specific details about a show’s sountrack or animation six months after viewing it unless something truly catches your attention. Mediocrity is forgotten and only the superb remain. When a show’s animation exceeds (or deviates) from expection, you will probably remember it. When a show’s sountrack exceeds (or deviates) from expectation, you will probably remember that.

    I believe RC’s assessment comes from the fact that Air Gear had a superb soundtrack that made a stronger impression than the visuals. I wonder if I can flip the tables by having him watch Serei no Moribito (which has a strong sountrack, but even stronger visuals). [/presumptuous speculation]

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