Aku no Hana and Rotoscoping

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

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The Spring 2013 anime season has just recently started, and I’m sure many of you have been taking a look at some of the fantastic shows that have been airing like Suisei no Gargantia, Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, and Date A Live. But another show might have flown under your radar, a show named Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil). It’s a series that is based on a manga of the same name and written and drawn by Oshimi Shuuzou. And if you didn’t miss out on it, you might have noticed something incredibly strange about the show’s character designs and animation.

Aku no Hana 1

Well, the reason that all the characters look and move differently is very simple. Zexcs, the studio behind the Aku no Hana anime, as well as other shows like Sukitte Ii na yo, Da Capo, and Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu, employed a technique known as rotoscoping largely as a means of character animation and design. To those not in the know, rotoscoping is a technique where animators trace over footage (usually something filmed in live action), frame by frame, for any number of purposes in media.

But rotoscoping is by far not a new technique. In fact, the technique known as rotoscoping was invented by Max Fleischer for his series Out of the Inkwell beginning around 1915, with his brother Dave Fleischer dressed in a clown outfit for the live-film reference for Koko the Clown. Max Fleischer patented the method in 1917. Since then, the technique has been employed by many studios and film crews including Walt Disney, Leon Schlesinger Productions, Ralph Bakshi, Filmation, and even the film crew behind The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. The technique was also famously used in several music videos from the 1980s, including a-ha’s “Take On Me.”

a-ha Take on Me

Since then, Smoking Car Productions invented a digital version of the process, and Bob Sabiston developed a computer assisted “interpolated rotoscoping” process, which has since been famously employed in Richard Linkletter’s films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Anyway, that’s it for the history lesson.

a scanner darkly robert downey jr

Rotoscoping in anime is actually used a lot more than most people would think. Most of the time the technique is only used as a means to study the way that the body moves in order to more accurately portray the motions. A recent and well-done use of rotoscoping occurred in the show Sakamichi no Apollon, known to us English-speaking folks as Kids on the Slope.

Kids on the Slope gif

Now, Aku no Hana’s use of rotoscoping has been the focal point of many discussions since its airing on April 5th. Many viewers feel that the way the studio went about the animation was lazy, or that it isn’t true to the manga, or that it just doesn’t look right. Well, they’re not all wrong. Because the studio used human body models, the characters of course aren’t going to have the same builds as those in the manga. In fact, they’re not really even close. Additionally, a lot of moments in the first episode really seem to point to laziness on the part of the studio, in terms of animation anyway. Repeated frames are abound, including the clip where two people’s faces seem to appear out of nowhere.

Aku no Hana 2

However, one thing that I personally feel cannot be denied as successful about the studio’s use of rotoscoping in Aku no Hana is the fantastic and uncomfortably appropriate atmosphere that it creates. To those of us who have read the manga, while we may be uncomfortable with how the characters look and move, it can’t be denied that the rotoscoped animation creates an awkward, dark feeling that is just… too right. Combine that with the strange dissonance between the quality of the background art and that of the characters themselves, the atmosphere itself just begins to fit more and more.

To be honest, I’m not even sure if another art style would have fit quite as right. Even if they had tried to follow the style of a different dark anime such as Another, Shiki, Elfen Lied, or Gantz, I don’t think it would have quite the same fit. Does that mean that I feel the method that they’ve chosen is right? No, not really. Rotoscoping itself is all well and good, and I have no issues with it. But there is a right way to do it, and it feels like they missed out on that lesson. The complete lack of shading and depth on the characters is definitely overshadowed by the fact that all of the backgrounds are incredibly well-done and drawn out. But that’s what happens when you bring in a completely separate studio solely to do the background art. As a side note, much love to Studio PABLO for the fantastic work that they or at least some members of their team did on the backgrounds in this and many other shows including Katanagatari and Mawaru Penguindrum, two personal favorites of mine.

But that’s beside the point. Does the eerily perfect atmosphere given by the rotoscoped characters and uncomfortable disconnect between character and background outweigh the fact that the characters themselves look like cheap paste-ins for what could have otherwise been a beautifully done production? I’m not sure. We’ll have to leave that for the viewership to decide, and that’s something that can really only be decided on as the Spring 2013 anime season carries on.




About Joey Williamson

Joey is a summer 2012 graduate of the Studio Art program at Florida State University, where he focused in illustration and sculpture. He's currently employed part-time at Toys"R"Us, sitting on that job to buff up his resume while applying for other jobs more relevant to his degree.

Things that you might catch him doing on his time off include frequent trips to the movie theater, throwing down some new sketches for project ideas that will never see the light of day, or crying about having to go to work the next day. To break the lull of his tears, he likes to watch anime and try out new games, particularly MMOs. He's a huge Sailor Moon fanboy, but also gives a 10 out of 10 to shows like Arakawa Under the Bridge, Katanagatari, and Kids on the Slope.

  • great article and it seems I’m not the only one to grasp the atmosphere. This is worth giving it a shot

  • I saw an AMV of the anime Stellvia of the Universe years ago on Youtube. It played so perfectly with the song Take On Me by A-ha. Good times! 🙂

  • Cruxis

    This anime is getting a lot of hate on the internet. I can understand that fans of the manga want an art-style that is more true to the source material, but I think the more realistic approach captures the atmosphere perfectly.
    Would I want every anime to have this art-style? No, because I would miss all the cute girls. But for Aku no Hana, it works really well.

    • Yeah the hate is really bad. The first post-air topic for the show on MyAnimeList was… Well, it was hilarious how bad people hate the show. And for literally no reason outside of the art choice, which is by no means the wrong art choice for the show and for the content.

    • Reidwyr

      dude…. there is a difference between realistic art style and what they are doing here. this is not realistic, is just a prototype of something that wants to be realistic.
      the lack of detail in the characters expressions and movements, in anything related to the characters just blows the whole eperience as we cant see their emotions we cant indentify what theyre feeling unless the camera is totally zoomed in their faces.it is just that simple, the hate is justified, they never ever anounced that before the first episode because they knew what that would cause, they wanted to play smart and get everyone by surprise, cause “impact” pff its ridiculous. ppl saying “ah its perfect, it creates the atosphere”…idk how ppl can think that there are lot of better ways to convey a dark and disturbed atmosphere the anime needs and this one is definetely not the right one.

    • Reidwyr

      forgot the “,” “after idk how ppl can think that”

    • Cruxis

      I agree that it’s not perfect. It was experimental to say the least.
      Frankly, the art-style is much more “realistic” than other anime. I know people don’t watch anime for realism, but still. Like I said they were experimenting.
      If anything, the fact that it’s so different definitely made an impact and captured people’s attention like you said.

  • bomblord

    While I understand what your saying but there are a lot more subtle ways to create uncomfortable dissonance, this venture way to far into the uncanny valley and the constant bombardment of an uncomfortable dissonance just over saturates the audience and creates indifference.

    • bomblord

      While I understand what your saying, there are a lot more subtle ways
      to create an uncomfortable dissonance. This art style ventures way too far into the
      uncanny valley and the constant bombardment of it just over saturates the audience and creates a feeling of indifference instead of the intended mildly uncomfortable feeling it’s going for.
      -wrote it too quickly wouldn’t let me edit it

    • I completely understand your point. Honestly the rotoscoping is fine with me, though I wish they had spent a little more time in post. Even just one or two more layers of shading on the characters would have made a world of difference, but by no means does it cause an issue in my opinion.

  • For me I was more invested in the story and atmosphere than I was the animation. I will say that I enjoy the realism of the characters, and that I can recall being caught off guard by the animation once. It was when the girl was walking and her movements became shifty, and it was a tiny bit distracting. But then I remembered seeing similar expression in in live action. On the note about the faces suddenly appearing, I didn’t notice that the first time around. I did notice how at a certain distance the faces wouldn’t appear but I find it to be more of a purposeful art direction than being lazy. The only thing that kind of bothered me was the abrupt intro. song that didn’t match the tone of the show.

    • Yeah that intro cracks me up though. It throws itself in there just as abruptly and loudly as Cowboy Bebop’s ‘Tank’, and the lyrics are perfect. It’s just a weird tone setter, for sure.

  • Riddle

    All you have to do is watch episode 7 of this anime and you will be blown away. To call he anime producers lazy is not right. Lots of hard work has been put into this anime. Sure, the anime producers could have gone for a generic approach like animating this with the same character designs as the manga, if they did that, sure this anime would be a lot popular and likable, BUT FOR GOD SAKE, I love the way they decided to screw the whole generic approach and bring something different into anime. And its because of surprises such as this that makes anime different from any other cartoon form out there.

    • Jared Cyhowski

      Well put Riddle. I don’t remember what exactly happened in episode 7 but this series as a whole was a fantastic watch. I came back to this article to see how people viewed the first episode. All I can hope for is that people really took a second look at the series and made an effort to see what this series does narratively.