Full Animation: Zombie Land Saga

I do this so infrequently that I feel obligated to remind people that I analyze anime and manga from my twin perspectives as a writer and also as a trained animator.

In truth, the writer gets a LOT more room to play. A LOT. Because it’s easy (and fun) to write about writing. Some of these essays have turned into my book, Samurai Storyteller, available at that company named after a river in Brazil, and others have turned into presentations at the various conventions I go to.

Whereas no one wants to hear about animation.

Well, ptttttt, as Bill the Cat would say. I noticed something cool about animation and let’s talk about it.

I’ve talked a couple times about “limited animation,” where, basically, you only actually move the parts of the character that are actually moving at the moment. Right? Watch Trigun. Vash poses, and then his whole body, except for his mouth, freezes. They’re only animating his mouth.

The opposite of that is called “full animation,” and in full animation you animate the entire character’s body all together. It’s really hard, and it’s really expensive, so you only see it with big budget productions, you know, like Bugs Bunny (yep, he’s fully animated) or anything by Miyazaki or Shinichiro Watanabe.

While I was watching Zombie Land Saga I fell in love with Tae Yamada. You know, Zero, the zombie girl who never regains human intelligence.

You know that Zombie Land Saga is about a gang of zombies who are raised from the dead in order to form an Idol girl group that will save Saga Prefecture, right? (That’s what the Saga part really means.) You didn’t know that? Oops. Sorry I spoiled it for you.

SO ANYWAY, most of the zombie Idol girls are pretty smart even though they are zombies, although they have to be heavily made up to disguise the fact that they are decomposing. Yes, it’s exactly as amusing and absurd as it sounds.

But here’s the deal with the animation: For the song and dance numbers, to be a convincing Idol group they basically have to be animated singing and dancing in perfect coordination. That’s how those groups work, right? They torture, er, I mean, train, those little girls until they are PERFECT. (There are even scenes of them rehearsing HARD, unlike the fakers of K-On!)

So let’s say the girls are doing a dance number that requires them to move in perfect unison. There are a couple ways to handle as an animator that but the one I am most familiar with would work like this: The dance itself would be animated by either a director or a choreographer in stick figures. Right? Hands, feel, arms, legs, head, torso … since all the girls are going to be doing exactly the same dance, they only need to choreograph the dance once as one stick figure doing the whole routine.

Then they would pass the stick figure to the animators, or animation teams, who specialize in each of the main characters. Because they specialize in that one character, they can keep the character design consistent from shot to shot and scene to scene, and they also get really good at that one character, which means they draw really fast, which means the company saves MONEY.

Oh, yeah, baby. The more money you save, the bigger the profits, right?

You used to see this ALL THE TIME. Sure. Go back to (Ready for this one?) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In that film specific animators were assigned to specific characters. For instance, all of Snow White’s work was done by Grim Natwick. There was one animator assigned to the Evil Queen in her evil queen mode, and when she changes to the evil witch her animator changes, too. (I used to know who did all the different characters, but I forget and I’m too lazy to look them up again, except that I think Wooly Reitherman did the Evil Queen’s mirror. Him or Bill Tytla.)

So basically all each team has to do is trace their character over the stick figure the choreographer drew. It’s really simple and it’s a snap to compose them all on the computer screen at the end, so look what you have: it’s not really limited animation, technically, but it’s greatly simplified. Fast, easy, cheap, and they look like a perfectly synchronized Idol group.

Except for Tae. Tae’s not smart enough to remember all the steps perfectly or remember how to speak, let alone sing.

It even gets to be a running gag in the show: “Oh, you’re Zero. You’re the one who doesn’t sing!”

But to make Tae work as a character, they can’t simplify her animation along with the others. If she danced perfectly, she wouldn’t be Tae, so Tae has to be fully animated. And she is.

Tae Tamada, fully animated, hair and all

And she’s WONDERFULLY animated. While everyone else is in perfect synchronization, Tae just approximates the routine. She’s usually in the right place. She’s generally on the right foot. Most of the time she has the right arm in the air.

But sometimes she just flies away, rambling around the stage like, well, like the mindless zombie that she is. And her hair! Remember the Werewolf of London? (“His hair was perfect.”) Tae’s hair hangs all over, floats off in random directions, sways with the music as mindless Tae just grooves with the rhythm.

Now, let’s be honest: Frankly, if that jackass Kotaro responsible for raising these girls from the dead and then acting as their manager had a brain in his head, he’d throw Tae out of the group, because her individuality wrecks the precision that’s key to the Idol group performance. To avoid having her wreck the show even in the anime itself (reminder: they aren’t a real Idol group), Tae is often at the edge of the screen, or in the back behind the others, or even not in the frame at all. That deemphasizes her individuality on screen by making her hard to see (and reduces the costs of have her fully animated separately from the others).

But she’s worth seeing, and not just when she’s absently munching on another character’s head. Somebody spent a lot of time animating Tae so she’d be consistent with her zombiefied nature in the big dance numbers. It’s HUGELY cool to watch.

And it’s something you can only do with full animation.

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.

9 thoughts on “Full Animation: Zombie Land Saga

  1. Wow, I had no idea that’s how anime gets animated! I thought all of it was animated all the time, but it totally makes sense that studios would want to cut down the amount that needs to be animated as much as possible. Thank you for the post, it was really interesting and I learned something new!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “the fakers of K-On” LOL! That’s so true!! I bet there’s some real black magic at the heart of their performances 😂😂😂

    On a serious note, I appreciate shows that fully use animated sequences for all the complex sequences rather than just going straight to CGI. I remember watching “Love Live” and although the story was great the CGI/animation mix for the performances was just jarringly off-putting. Kudos to “Zombie Land Saga” based on that one gif for preserving the traditional methods all the way and not compromising on quick n’easy methods for the sake of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have argued elsewhere that K-On! is actually a magical girl show, so they pick up their instruments and they are transformed 🙂

      Yeah, ZLS looks pretty nice to my eye, and it makes sense to have the girls dancing identically, but then to have Tae in there (when you can see her) made her just adorable. Which is a tough trick for a zombie 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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