Limited Animation: The Way of the House Husband

Okay, The Way of the House Husband has only been out for like thirty-five microseconds and I hear people bitching about the animation.

What? Animation?

Dang. That was one of the things this blog was founded around: I was going to look at anime and manga from my standpoints (plural) of a writer and a trained animator.

I don’t get a lot of chances to make substantive comments from my perspective as a trained animator because so much of the animation in anime is the same. Not stylistically the same – I mean, you can watch anything by Shinichiro Watanabe and know who directed it right off – but technically the same. Most of it is what we call full animation and these days most of it is done on computers.

Not Way of the House Husband. Someone made a deliberate decision to stay away from full animation. For me, it works at a hilarious level. But then again, I’m pretty weird.

To make sense out of this we have to go back into time, back to the essential beginnings of animated films. I love this sort of crap, so be prepared to be (pick one) a) bored b) enlightened.

Okay, let’s start with this: traditional, or cel, animation, is named after the (almost) transparent celluloid sheets the characters are painted onto. What’s bizarre about that is that cel animation, or the techniques of cel animation, outdate the use of the cel. Early animation couldn’t be cel animation because cels hadn’t been invented yet.

Yeah. Um. Oops.

At the start all animation was full animation. People working on paper drew everything – character, background, everything – on the same sheet of paper. (The VERY earliest animation was done on a chalkboard!)

ANYWAY, want to see a good example? Have a look at Windsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur. The guy was a freakin’ genius!! The quality of his work given the age of the genre is mind-blowing.

But McKay knew that what he was doing was madness. Drawing the same background on each paper cel? Madness!

A beezer named John Bray was the guy who figured out that if you put the character on a transparent sheet of acetate, you could draw the character moving on the acetate and lay it down onto a stable background for photography. You can find his name on some of the really old cartoons you can find on YouTube, because it was called the Bray-Hurd process and people had to give him screen credit for it.

It wan’t long before people figured out that if you put down one layer of acetate, you could put down two, or three, or whatever. So you could have the character’s body on one level, their, say, arms, on a second, and their mouth on the third. So if they were standing still and talking, you only had to move the mouth, and everything else is just on a lower level and stays still.

Seriously. Watch Trigun.

Later on they switched from acetate, which is like REALLY flammable, to celluloid, which is less so. Hence “cel.”

ANYWAY, that looks seriously, hard care tacky and seriously hard core cheap, so back in the thirties a dude named Walt Disney insisted that characters had to be fully animated. And as other studios hired Disney-trained animators (guys like Friz Freling, Rudy Ising, Hugh Harman, and Burt Gillette), they brought full animation with them until by about 1935 or so everyone was doing full animation.

And you know, it looks great.

But you know what else it looks? Baroque, right? It’s really fancy and elaborate and detailed. Disney had a whole department – A WHOLE DEPARTMENT – devoted to making sure water splashing and rain falling and things like that looked real.

Looked real. In a cartoon. Think about that. (And look at Weathering with You.)

By the fifties the art world had moved on. Things were getting simplified, abstract, edgy.

Well, you know, if it’s going on in art, it seeps into animation. A whole new studio, UPA, was formed by guys who wanted animated films that reflected the reality of modern art. And so their cartoons were simplified, abstract, edgy. Backgrounds turned into sketches and hairdos into a curleque, and character design into a couple circles wearing a hat. BOOM! Gerald McBoingBoing. Look him up on YouTube.

That’s what they did with Way of the Househusband. They used the old UPA high style, angular and simplified, and I’m pretty sure they did that deliberately: It matches the main character, Tatsu, right? He’s a hood, a thug, the edge on the blade of a knife, a yakuza through and through … and they reenforce that with a sharp, angular style.

Tatsu doesn’t quite have the househusband thing down

And then they play against that the idea that he’s actually an old softie.

BOOM! It’s a visual contrast that replicates the essential contradiction of the character, that he’s a yakuza killer and LOOKS like a yakuza killer on the one hand and on the other hand he puts on an apron and makes dinner for his wife, the breadwinner.

It’s really a one-gag anime: put an unusual character into an everyday situation and you get instant comedy. In fact, it’s the very definition of comedy, as in jokes, as opposed to Comedy, the meta-plot. But by using the edgy, modern animation style, they “double down” on that one note.

Two notes don’t make a full chord, which is probably why Way is so short. (Rumor has it there’s another short “season” on the way.) But it’s not often they deliberately and specifically pick an animation style to match the nature of the main character. To match the SETTING, yes…think of Madoka Magica or The Flowers of Evil…but the CHARACTER? Can’t think of one.

Makes me want to get back to the original FLCL, where they changed animation styles from scene to scene depending on what they wanted to do. Love me some animation, I do.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

4 thoughts on “Limited Animation: The Way of the House Husband

  1. I don’t have Netflix so I haven’t seen this, but I’m not surprised at the reaction. Modern audiences have largely been conditioned to think that more animation/more visual detail=good and less animation/less visual detail=bad, when that kind of thing really should be judged in the context of how it serves or fails to serve the story. Like Rocky & Bullwinkle doesn’t need to be as fluid as an early Disney movie to be hilarious. Even KyoAni’s experimented with very limited animation on certain projects, like in the K-On Ura-On shorts. Househusband was directed by Chiaki Kon, who’s a respected director – she’s helmed everything from Higurashi to Nodame Cantabile to episodes of Naruto, and was getting praised just a few years ago for rescuing Sailor Moon Crystal from the scrappy heap when she took over season 3, so she obviously knows what she’s doing. If she decided this was the best way to present the series, then I’d be inclined to trust her judgment.

    Liked by 1 person

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