Day 8 of ’12 Days of Anime’ – [See other posts in this series]
(Spoilers for Fate/Stay Night: UBW – 2015)
Have you ever watched an anime in which two fighters are participating in what could only be described as an epic showdown?
If you’ve seen any sizable amount of shows, particularly shounen’s, the answer will undoubtedly be “yes!”. If you were to describe to yourself what made it so intensely appealing, you could really point to a whole bucket list of reasons ranging from precise cinematography, heart pounding music, detailed animation & more. The list is long and truthfully there is no one element that makes such scenes stand out. However, there is one aspect that I want to focus my commentary down to, that being the weight of impact as delivered through intentional delaying.
In order for me to commentate on this topic I’ll need you to get into the right frame of mind, and in order to get you in the right frame of mind, I’m going to be using Ufotable’s 2015 adaptation of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Now the reason I’m highlighting these fights from just one show is because of how Ufotable as a modern animation studio have mastered the capabilities of this specific technique, making their work the best equipped showcase that is publicly available.
To prepare you, this aforementioned technique of delaying can be compartmentalized into three distinct sub-sections; that being anticipation, tension and release. Please be aware that the upcoming illustrations provided showcase all three elements at once, so feel free to go back and rewatch them after you’ve read the explanations.
This is a word to describe the gut reaction we have to the initial pause in action. We anticipate something unexpected because of how the fluid and dynamic action is juxtapositioned against the stilted and labored movement following it.
As viewers we depend on our real life understanding of how bodies naturally behave in order to follow along with the animation, so when we notice these unnatural stoppages it takes us out of our comfort zone, building atmosphere in a way similar to how horror films operate.
When you think of how springs are built to capture tension, the way the momentum of a punch or kick is staggered does more or less doing the same thing. While there is no visible force acting against the fighter, you still get the sense that an unstoppable force has come up against an immovable object.
However in this case, because you already understand the strength of the fighter defies convention, you have an instinct which informs you that the spring will inevitably snap. In the first scene this results in the attacker landing a noticeably powerful move, although as you can see in the second scene, it doesn’t have to be the one acted upon that gives in. Either party (or neither) can generate the tension, the only rule is that it needs to be appreciable.
Which brings us to the release. As you might expect this is simply the resolution to the sequence. Because of how the the previous two steps primed us into taking the action more seriously than we otherwise would, the release then becomes particularly memorable as a result.
As you can see in the third scene, this delaying effect does not necessarily make things slow, and fundamentally you can move through all three stages within a relatively short amount of time. Of course there is some relation between the length of a pause and how satisfying the release is, however the sheer flexibility in this technique is what makes it such a powerful tool for a director to have in their arsenal.
You would naturally think that something with such a strong influence on the way animation conveys force and shock would be blatant, yet in actuality the only thing separating it from standard ‘fluid’ animation is perhaps only a single second of time. Certainly short enough to be missed under the blink of an eye.
And while I can’t say for sure if you’d enjoying watching any of Ufotable’s productions, if this animation technique interests you at all, then you definitely need to check them out. They are truly one of the world leaders in this direction, and in a way, their vibrant and intense commitment towards bringing Fate/Stay Night to life has helped bring the franchise greater popularity than it previously had.
Thanks for reading!