At the beginning of this anime season, one of the most popular series to be released called K, resurfaced the constantly debated topic of style over substance. Some people will ultimately always prefer a good story over good animation, while others won’t even go near an anime that’s animation isn't top quality. Both sides have their own valid arguments, but what these discussions managed to remind me of, is that anime is such a diverse medium that allows for so much creative freedom.
With that said, I decided to place together a list of the series and films that I find to have some of the most striking animation that you can find in the industry. I'm talking about those anime that the moment you start watching, you are instantly impressed or simply astonished by the visuals presented. It’s a quality in an anime that makes it truly memorable. So without further ado, here’s the list!
Image © Madhouse Studios
It's a shame this anime isn't all that well known. Its story takes place in a futuristic setting where people can literally swap bodies. Story aside, it also has some striking animation. Despite the complex themes presented throughout the series, the animation is rather...rudimentary. Though, in some way it helped to create a fantastical look that felt nostalgic on account of seeming to have a "dated" look, despite being released in 2008. By that I mean that the style in some ways is similar to the monumental Astro Boy, which was first released back in 1963. Point is, there's no denying the style is visually striking in its own way!
Image © Studio 4°C
9. Tekkon Kinkreet
This film is the story of two orphans who fight crime in a place called Treasure Town. Although the look of these two leads may seem simplistic, it somehow manages to blend well with the breathtaking backgrounds. The backgrounds are so heavy with details that watching it only once is not enough to appreciate all that this film offers. Studio 4°C is a worthwhile studio to check out considering their motto seems to be all about creating stylized anime filled with intense visuals like this one!
Image © Aniplex
8. Hourou Musuko
I've seen the watercolor-look employed a few times before, but never have they done it as well as Hourou Musuko managed to. It gives a very light feel to the show, and it also an innocence to it all, which works perfectly with the age group of the characters in the show. It's a graceful feel and truly gives the impression of a moving painting. Not to mention, despite the simplistic character designs, the backgrounds were incredibly detailed! It's the type of animation that is able to add a subtle beauty to a series and watching it feels similar to take a deep breath of fresh air.
Image © Madhouse Studios
7. The Tatami Galaxy
From Madhouse studios, The Tatami Galaxy is another experiment in animation like no other. It's glorious and strange all at once. The animation is extremely diverse throughout the series, but it also manages to consistently have such smooth movements in the characters' actions. It's bold with its contrasting shades and colours. It may not be something that appeals to everyone, but I would still no doubt consider it a feast for the eyes!
Image © Gainax
6. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
This crude anime has its animation to match. The style seems to be heavily inspired from late night American cartoons, which also makes sense considering how much it's filled with jokes pertaining to North American culture. It's weird to say the least. To top it all off, the transformation scenes of Panty and Stocking like to give the audience a little reminder that the animators could have tried if they wanted. All this is to say, is that sometimes “ugly” and unpolished can work in your favor by delivering a unique style that entices people to watch.
Image © Shaft; Source: Boderline Hikikimori
5. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Upon making this list, I knew I had to include on of Shaft's unique works made by Akiyuki Shibou. I decided to go with one of their most popular work, which earned its fame for good reason. It tells a fantastic story, but more importantly, definitely fits the criteria of being visually striking. Its influential style is true treat to watch. It showcases two completely different uses of animation, and both cases were treated with such care and precision.
Image © Gonzo
It may not matter to mention, but I actually hate the studio Gonzo. In the past few years, they've only churned out generic series that they assume will make a lot of money. Even though I do hate them today, not so much as five years ago, I can admit they were creating some really incredible stuff. One of them happened to be Gankutsuou! This is a completely new interpretation of the The Count of Monte Cristo with a definitely new stylized spin to it. It's filled with shapes and patterns, and yet, they all seem to merge and blend in together. The lines in the hair, clothes, and backgrounds all became implied with the animation style. In a way, it could be best categorized as a beautiful mess!
Image © Madhouse Studios; Source: Mubi
This is a hyper stylized film about racing. It has bold lines, crazy hair, and an insane style all melded into one! It may not appeal to some at first glance, but once you start looking at all the details placed into this film, it definitely at least deserves some appreciation. If that's not enough to convince you, this was a film that literally took seven years to make. It was mostly drawn by hand, and this aided in creating something that is a true visual wonder!
Image © Toei Animation; Source: Chinese Cartoons
This is one of the anime series you will no doubt hear being thrown about at the mention of series that follow by style over substance. From what I understand, the animation is based off the style of Japanese woodblock prints called "Ukiyo-e". It's a form of art all about appreciating the beauty around you, and Mononoke did a pretty damn good job representing that. It's vibrant and filled with colours! The animation in Mononoke truly has the power to awe its viewers!
Image © Gainax
I'd imagine it doesn't come as much of a surprise to some to see FLCL make the list. It's the first anime to be known for breaking all the rules. It's inspired several other anime to break the mold and move away from the mainstream form of animation. This is the anime to thank for being able to in some way or another inspire the others on this list. Its animation was crazy, hectic, abstract, and gives the illusion of being on drugs. Though, as those who have seen this series know, the animation turned out to be perfectly fitting for the story!