At this point, it is pretty clear that Bones are masters of choreography and even clearer that I am a HUGE fanboy of their work. Last time I showcased fight scenes from the Cowboy Bebop movie, Sword of the Stranger, Darker than Black, and Mob Psycho 100. The quality of those fights truly speak for themselves but fights alone aren’t what make Bones special. It is their reputation for constantly creating new, imaginative works across genres and demographics, and still managing to approach each project with love and care. In that respect, today I will talk about consistency and variety, two qualities that make Bones one of the best in the business.
Part 2: Consistency
Animation can do two very important things. It can be used to visualize something recognizable from our own world or it can be used to give life to an impossible or unrealistic dream that couldn’t happen because the natural laws of our world don’t allow it. No matter which of those two an animator is trying to achieve, it should be their goal to put those images into motion in the right way, and that takes skill. That’s why I put so much emphasis on choreography the last time around. In addition to this, it is also crucial to have a work that is visually coherent and consistent. That is to say that you can compare episode 1 to the finale and have them match up on a technical level. I for one believe that Bones is one of the most consistent studios when it comes to animation quality. The one problem is that sometimes shows are inconsistent in a good way.
If you’ve watched Gurren Lagann you know that the show escalates narratively from mech fights in the desert to space battles, to opponents fighting in structures so large that the impacts of their punches spawn universes… and yes it does feel good to type that sentence. So what do I really mean when I say that Bones is consistent?
I suppose what I mean is that Bones will occasionally throw a fight scene at you that looks really, really good, but that doesn’t give you that epic fight at the cost of two other episodes of lackluster animation. In most shows, I believe the minimum standard quality of visuals is established within the first few episodes of a series. When I say that a show is consistent, I mean it managed to stay at or above that minimum presented at the beginning, and therefore I never felt like the animators had to limit themselves severely. Take, for instance, Kekkai Sensen (AKA, Blood Blockade Battlefront).
A lot happens in the first episode. A foggy, gothic take on New York, who’s bustling metropolis is brimming with exotic alien species. And once the action starts, there are explosions, there’s city-wide destruction, and superpowered badasses kicking ass. That sets a pretty high bar, and yet the series does a great job of keeping that visual quality consistent whether its ambiance, cityscapes, characters moving through the city, and yes, THE ACTION.
(Kekkai Sensen is a must watch and is available through Funimation’s streaming service and is available on Bluray and DVD)
To get a better idea of how this all sets Bones apart from the rest, let’s look at two shows that I actually like, but that I believe fall behind due to their inconsistent animation. First off, Kill La Kill.
The first two episodes didn’t do a whole lot to really grab me. The second episode, in particular, felt like a bit of a waste of time, but the third episode of Kill La Kill had me hooked. It had such an awesome fight scene that I was certain that the previous two episodes were just slowly building to an incredible hook. With Ryuko and Satsuki having their first major confrontation and Ryuko actually discovering how to properly wear Senketsu, closing the slow arc of the first three episodes while introducing the premise behind the rest of the series. But aside from the fighting tournament and the last arc of the series, Kill La Kill had some pretty inconsistent animation. Whereas the fight between Ryuko and Satsuki in episode 3 was grand and explosive, other fights in Kill La Kill are practically slide show presentations.
The latter… see what I mean?
The next show that doesn’t quite nail it when it comes to animation consistency is Yuri on Ice. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Yuri on Ice. Its story and main characters are very well written and I’m always down for more gay relationships in anime. However, Yuri on Ice is ultimately a sports anime, and when you make a sports anime, the “sport” part should be the visual hook of the series. Credit where credit is due, the first three episodes are impeccable, but after that, the ice skating takes a huge dip in quality. Since the first three episodes (the first major arc) were shown to the press prior to the air date, the studio clearly focused on making a great first impression but didn’t consider the constraints that would have on the body of the show’s run.
(Miraculously, there isn’t a whole lot of good videos of particular skate scenes readily available so enjoy this… “tasteful” compilation of Yuri on Ice’s animation missteps through its midsection.)
I understand that animation can be hard at times but that’s why it is important to allocate your budget effectively to get the most out of your animation so you don’t have to settle for poor quality just so the premiere and the finale have really good animation.
The thing about Bones is that, of all of their shows I have seen, I can hardly recall any that had issues with consistency and staying true to the visual standard established in their premieres. And this same consistency is found in all of their projects, regardless of genre and creative team. Across 64 episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, I never noticed any decreases in quality that could be identified as a mismanaged budget. Only the occasional increase during key story moments. If there is one thing you can count on from Bones, it’s for slick, visually appealing shows that occasionally– or frequently– reward you something even more awesome.
Part 3: Variety
If you think about common misconceptions and stigmas about Anime, you probably can think of one particular critique that gets particularly annoying.
“All anime looks the same”
Particularly, “all anime characters look the same.” There is a sort of “default” anime character that many who do not watch anime associate with the medium. Additionally, some studios, like Kyoto Animation, have an in-house style that is used in a majority of its productions. Essentially, shows like Free, Hibike Euphorium, and Kyoukai no Kanata all have similar character designs, particle and lighting effects, as well as gorgeous liquid and facial animation.
Bones is different. All of their shows look dramatically different. In my personal collection, I have all of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Sword of the Stranger, Kekkai Sensen and Akagami no Shirayukihime. Just by looking at the covers you can see different color palates, character designs, and visual tones. They aren’t the only studio that has shows that look really different, but in tandem with the factors I’ve already stated, Bones shines through as a studio who’s animators can adapt to new styles and creative teams and barely be phased. Oddly enough I’m even more impressed at the way they involve themselves in genres typically aimed at young females. Shows like Ouran High School Host Club and Akagami are masterful within their respective genres and this comes from a studio that most of the time works on action shows.
Now I’m not saying that having a uniform style is a bad thing. Kyoto Animation shows like Kyoukai no Kanata are gorgeous and make use of its art style to achieve great results. Rather I’m proposing that there is merit in exploring other styles while still maintaining the quality your studio is known for. Bones does just that. Just look below at just a few examples of the drastically different styles seen among some of Bones most popular works. Pay attention to how the faces are drawn, how the eyes look, the color palates and the level of detail.
This studio’s talent for choreography, unwavering consistency and unending variety have made Bones one of the best in Anime, but takes it one step further in my mind isn’t just those three factors in tandem, but the sheer number of great shows we have gotten because of it. Not only that, but it is the composers like Yoko Kanno and Taku Iwasaki or directors like Masahiro Ando, Takuya Igarashi and Rie Matsumoto. Studios like this are the reason I watch anime. That’s why in my book, Bones is the best animation studio in the world.