OP: 「リトライ☆ランデヴー」 (Retry☆Rendezvous) by 村川梨衣 (Murakawa Rie)
「猫娘揚々」 (Nekomusume Yōyō)
“The Exuberant Cat Girl”
For those of you not in the know, Etotama is about an anthropomorphic cat of astrological origin, Nyaa-tan (Murakawa Rie), attempting to hold a place among the Chinese Zodiac. In order to fuel her battles to the top, she relies on an unwitting human, Amato Takeru (Shimono Hiro) to provide her with the energy she needs via feelings of happiness and gratefulness. She’ll fight against the entire zodiac, making friends and enemies along the way. Half of the story is illustrated through traditional 2D animation, but as soon as the fight sequences start up, every fighter turns into a 3D chibi, duking it out in an an alternate dimension. Etotama itself isn’t too remarkable. The show tries very hard to be meta without being meaningful or funny, the story lacks direction so far, and the characters overall are fairly forgettable at this stage. It has a passable enough plot with good enough traditional animation and a good cast of voice actors, but the overall package is (currently) unremarkable.
Well, almost unremarkable. Remember what I said about the 3D chibi characters? The quality of those chibis is surprisingly passable at worst, interesting at best. The initial looks of the graphics are deceiving, with the characters designs suited to a children’s show full of fanservice, but the graphics are fairly detailed with dynamic movements. The color palette chosen for the models also suits the tone of the show, encouraging a light-hearted yet intense flavor from the battles between chibis. Though this super-deformed style does feel like a cop-out in terms of fully animating a normally proportioned model, the trade-off allowed the CG team to accomplish much more with what was supposedly a fairly small budget. In comparison to improv and low budget shows such as gdgd Fairies, the quality blows that production out of the water, despite sharing similar proportioned models. As compared to the models seen in Ars Nova, the fluidity of both the frame rate and the character movements is a step up, while also boasting more detailed models. However, when it comes to comparing Etotama to actual full-fledged 3D productions within the mainstream, such as those released by Dreamworks, Pixar, and Square Enix, our show here is merely a baby. On the bright side, it is a baby that’s growing out of its anime little leagues and into the mainstream.
The reason why I decided to into Etotama is that it plays into a larger dialogue about the role of 3D animation in anime production. As production times and budgets continue to dwindle, studios are forced to cut corners to continue to maintain profitability. 3D animation is increasingly becoming a common method to save money. Commonly, this method is employed in mecha anime, where geometric models are easily modeled in 3D programs. However, there are several consequences to using this method, the most glaring of which is the mismatch of 2D animation and 3D models. Besides the perspective differences, problems with matching colors, framerates, and detail arise when the two art styles clash together.
Etotama suffers from many of these problems, especially in the transition of framerate and detail from 2D to 3D. Jumps from fairly average 2D drawings to a more detailed and smoother 3D experience is jarring, yet it shows potential for a smooth transition if the 2D animation could be brought up to par. Hence, Etotama is unique in that it feels opposite to the goals of other 3D modeled anime–the 2D animation is the limiting factor for cutting costs, rather than the 3D itself. In Etotama, the fights are the highlights, in all of its 3D glory, rather than the fairly boring and lower quality 2D backstory that precede it. As a result Etotama has stood out from the rest of the great titles airing this season, if only for a brief moment. It highlights the potential there is for 3D CG to be more than a cost-cutting method and more of a cornerstone of modern anime, as well as the inevitable drawbacks that come with combining 2D and 3D together. Just as Nyaa-tan aspires to join the ranks of the exclusive zodiac, so does Etotama strive to bring 3D as a legitimate and respected force in Japanese animation.
For those reasons, I’ll keep my eye out on Etotama a while longer, just to see what sorts of magic the 3D animation crew can do with this primary, rather than secondary, role. Perhaps you’ll see some more commentary in the monthly impressions as we reach May and June!
ED: 「blue moment」 by Seollal BOB