all the small things – cinematography in Sankarea

Strange, wondrous things are possible with fiction. Aliens come and invade the Earth, but eventually succumb to human disease. A secondary moon appears in the sky and breaks a female assassin’s perception of reality. An old countryman deludes himself with fiction itself into thinking he’s a knight and even acts like one. The begotten prince of tyranny liberates his country and world from strife with the help of bipedal mobile armor suits that shoot colourful lasers and make things go boom, helped by a team of women and men whose hair colours span the visible spectrum. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. And that’s what we want.

So forgive me for saying that Sankarea’s concept (finally getting to my point here) isn’t anything extraordinary. It’s not as nonsensical as Tsuritama, nor is it as down-to-earth as Sakamichi no Apollon. It’s a story of a girl turned zombie. In fact, in light of all the currently circulating stories about undead beings, the premise comes off as rather ordinary. Yet, it’s one of my favourite shows this season. Why? To be straightforward, I like what I see.

WARNING: this post is ridiculously long and image-heavy.

Fiction is the product of the imaginary and the fantastical, the materialization of what we want rather than what is. The false takes the centre stage and grasps our fancy, precisely because its something we can’t live in our lives. This happens so often that we’ve created classification systems for the subject matter – science fiction is a wonderful and widely misunderstood example.

When dealing with a visual medium such as a TV series or film, a world of opportunities becomes available in the fine art of visual composition. Strangely, despite animation’s calls, a good number of anime fail to realize the potential afforded to them. Too often, it seems like the visual is the “casing” for the story telling – a talking head or a hand washing a tea kettle, meaningless shots.

Sankarea flips this tendency on its head. In a spectacular (and gaudy) fashion I had in no way expected, nearly every single shot in the show serves a beautifully dense and precisely crafted narrative purpose.  It’s not just the surface level plot that the show covers in its composition: it covers the subtle emotions of the characters, the conflicts, and even their personalities. In the same vein as a silent film, I’m willing to bet that even if the dialogue were to be removed in its entirety, the average viewer could tell me what’s going on in a scene, and more importantly, the exact emotions each character feels in said scene. And what comes out of this careful construction is what should be an ordinary anime turned curiously extraordinary by a mastery of the visual medium.

Cinematography shares many of the same basic principles of photography. It’s all about capturing and manipulating the path a viewer’s eye takes. For our purposes, the five aspects that Sankarea best uses are: framing, balance, lighting, form, and . A quick overview of the five:

Framing this is the determinant in the viewer’s ability to determine the focus or subject of an image. Through an interplay of depth and context, it leads the viewer’s eye towards what’s important FIRST. It can range from someone being in the center of the image, to a couple seen through a window, to the image being empty, even. It chooses what the audience sees and doesn’t see. When talking about angles, this is the most important aspect to consider.
Balance as the name would imply, the balance of an image refers to the pull the presence of an object has for the human eye, and the photographer’s choice in delegating the location of those pulls so that the eye finds importance in all aspects of the image. Ideally, you would want any given part of the image to be of as much consideration as the others.
Lighting a choice in lighting is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the designation of light to accent the image such in a way that the subject of the image is seen in a “new light”, so to speak. For example, a lady with a darkened face framed in the middle of an image has a much different than if her face were to be lit up.
Form in most cases strongly related to the idea of line, form is the individual shape of each object in an image. This one is a bit harder to explain without some context, so I’ll get to it in the post.
Line simply put, the lines that exist because of shadows that we assign to structures. For example, a building has a line around it and in it. These lines frame (not the same as framing) the structure.

Of course, there’s one major difference between photography and cinematography: the latter is about capturing movement. More often than not this distinction leads to deliberate choices in composition. In anime, where everything must be drawn from scratch (rather than being restricted by technology and positioning) any choices in composition are choices. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what I consider to be some brilliantly constructed shots in Sankarea. Just as a foreword: one of the most important parts of this show’s cinematography (the movement of the camera) is something I can’t show because videos take up too much memory. Let’s focus on shots. Every shot in the show is neatly balanced – it’s only when the show ramps up its drama that the cinematography boots up to follow. This is a restrained method of cinematography, and is intentionally done to emphasize the more “meaningful” shots. This isn’t anything “deep” at all – it’s more of an exercise in acknowledging the thought that goes into creating a “shot” in anime. All of this may seem “obvious” in retrospect, but it’s fascinating to note that the great deal of the intent behind each shot is registered as a “feeling” or expectation on the viewer’s part until they go back to analyse the individual moments.

This post is going to be rather technical compared to my other ones, and it’s going to be really damn long.

Babu’s death is first up on our list. The first thing to notice is that the action is not noticeably framed. There’s no recurring left, right, up or down image that would focus you to the subject of the photo. No, the greatest contributor to the power of this image is the great play of lighting and balance. Everything in the image is noticeably bleached white, so as to add a surreal effect to the image. Accenting it further is the fact that the three major forms (Furuya + Babu, the truck, the driver) in the image are naturally lighted, which signals to the brain: this is important as hell. And we can tell what happened. Even subtler is the lighting on the ground level. While everything else below a certain line appears to be behind a light “veil” of sorts (including the characters), Babu isn’t. As small as he is, he’s the focus of the image and the characters.

A simple lighting trick here. Here, the lights are used to frame the shot, with Furuya as the focus. By playing with symmetry of the chair pattern and the effect of the light, we manage to get a “sinister” feel from the whole shot. Interesting to note here is that the shot is not chaotic despite the huge amounts of stuff that’s present. This is an interesting play on depth and focus – when an image is layered, the mind tends to separate the image into layers. The layers further away are eclipsed by the closer layers, and thus occupy a lot less importance in the shot. As a result, the first thing we see is that Furuya is busy. It’s only after that we notice the peculiar choice in the harmonic background colours and how the blank space in those helps lend to the atmosphere.

This is one of those moments that we can infer the narrative without actually seeing the dialogue itself, through a sequence of images. Girl’s nervous, girl says something to the boy, boy says something to the girl that causes her to sulk, presumably says something again to get her attention back.

Keep in mind that these images aren’t continuous – it’s the director’s choice to return to this angle repeatedly. One of the interesting things Sankarea seems to love in its composition is to line within the structure of something else, whether this’ll be a window or a building. This shot is called a “two-shot”, traditionally used to show the relationship between two characters. We see it in their faces, which convey emotion splendidly. More importantly, we see it in the body language that’s accented by an intentional breaking of balance. The light in the middle serves as a point of focus for the viewer, and separates the two in the balanced first shot. Furuya, the lantern, and Rea have their own assigned “blocks” as designated by the chairs. The second shot breaks the balance, with Rea protruding into the “boundary” set by the lantern, taking up three blocks so that the balance is skewed to Furuya’s side. The third shot returns the couple to their original positions, but the weight of the image is focused to the left on Furuya’s side. And, in the final shot, the weight is still on the left side but more in-between the two characters.

Now let’s talk narrative and why balance is important for the narrative purpose these shots serve. As you may expect, the dual nature of a two-shot suggests the natural capacity of balance. In fact, the majority of two-shots you’ll see in film or anime are balanced equally. Thus, any imbalance is generally important, and the object that breaks the balance is of utmost importance. The important transition here is between the second and third shots, where the balance is conserved to the left. Despite the fact that Rea overbears breaks the balance, the “weight” is still on Furuya. He’s the one that needs to take action in some way to break the silence, so he takes up more space! And because he does, he’s rewarded with the fourth shot, which takes the weight off of him and puts it between the two now that they’ve reached a consensus of sorts!

Oh, fulcrum effect you make me so happy. The fulcrum/lever effect is an effect that the mind associates with distance and weight: a “farther” object has more weight than a closer object if it is lain out upon a lever. In the same way, our minds make this association and attribute it to the “weight” of objects in the photographs. It lends to a great deal of variety in cinematography and tends to be very important in two-shots as seen here. Both characters have equal agency with each other, as is revealed by their back-and-forth teasing. But there’s a slight weight in Rea’s favour in this scene, and the presence of the lantern accents that slight weight. It’s only natural that Furuya ends up losing this bout of teasing after a shot framed like this.

On to the next episode, where the cinematography enters its full maturity and power.

This isn’t the most important of shots; I’ve only put it here because I wanted to mention again how Sankarea tends to frame a great deal of its shots with objects that are naturally there, like trees or buildings.

There’s another beautiful thing we can do with framing: choosing what to include and not to include in the frame. Despite the cheery colour and lighting whenever the maids are shown, their faces are never shown. This suggests to the audience an air of impersonality, and is off-putting. In this case, it’s not that the maids don’t care about Rea – it’s their faces were so brief in Rea’s life that they’re completely inconsequential to her. And why? Because…

of this creepy motherfucker right here. It’s a rather odd variation on a shot that’s become a staple of the horror film genre, something we call the “watcher” or “stalker” shot. The point of the shot is to frame the shot so that “something” is watching the character or victim. Sankarea chooses to make nothing ambiguous and just tells you straight away, the dad is the “something” and “Yeah her dad is going to be the problem.” We’ve changed our natural question from “who” to “what”.  When you look at the natural division that the window frame causes, you’ll notice that the miniscule Rea is split into “nature” whereas her father’s face is juxtaposed over their house. As you’ll know if you’ve watched the episode, the house is where all the bad shit happens.

Like shit like this. This series of shots is stunningly expressive. The frame of each shot makes no effort to conceal that the backgrounds (which act as an internal frame) are artificial. It’s clearly a photograph. Coupled with the intense lighting, the first shot sends a message to the reader that something might be wrong with what’s going on. The following shots completely cement that feeling with the audience. They become progressively more unnatural as Rea ages. Whereas the bushes of the first picture are at least realistic, the second shot’s trees are poorly rendered and fake. The third one goes so far as to even include the strings that the prop fish are hanging down on. With subtle changes in the internal frame, the atmosphere of each shot parallels the reader’s disgust, Rea’s aging, and the thoughts she’s having that eventually lead to her realization of how improper this is.

We also get a look at what’s happening behind the camera. The shot itself appears to be a two-shot. But just like the series of shots above, the shot attempts to settle unease with the viewer. The shot is actually what’s understood as one of the “empathy” shots – the over-the-shoulder shot. The OTS shot works by having the audience see what the character sees, “being in their shoes.” But what’s actually being seen through his eyes? It’s the innocent Rea (with a halo, no less). And what of the extreme distance that Sankarea chooses to employ in this OTS shot? It’s far enough way that it’s practically a two-shot only distinguished as a OTS by the center line-of-sight. It’s a signal to the viewer that there’s nothing redeemable or justifiable to see in the father’s actions, despite efforts to do so.

Personally, these two shots are my favourites in the entire show up to this point. On the surface it’s a classic establishing shot done with a theatrical transition. Now, take a look at the lines caused by the window panes. In the internal frame (the room) we have four separate blocks caused by lines – they separate Rea from her friend’s family and puts her in her own block by herself. And look at how fantastically grim the next shot is: she’s not even in consideration. She’s completely blacked out as the curtain falls and the family smiles to themselves internally. She’s ultimately outside of their consideration. She’s even outside of the internal frame caused by the lighting (which is unnaturally bright). We also have the unfortunate implication behind the fact that once Rea is removed from the frame, the shot itself becomes significantly more balanced with only the family of four.

Wonderfully empathetic to Rea, this series of shots. Sankarea carries us through a two-shot, and then through three extreme close-ups. Let’s not worry about what the apple can symbolize (we’ve had enough of that with Mawaru Penguindrum). Instead, how does this series of shots make you feel? For me personally, they made me slightly frustrated at Rea’s friend. We have the two alone in their room, capable of discussing anything without parental stigma, and her friend brushes off Rea’s problems with the easy “Just ask him to stop, you have to say something!”, something the audience already knows won’t work because of the OTS shot we discussed earlier (whoo!). To emphasize this, we have an extreme close up to the friend’s legs, which are pretty unimportant, perhaps suggesting that she doesn’t realize (or want to) the full implications behind Rea’s problem. And the beautiful transition back to Rea’s eye, which appears to be watching her friend’s feet. Perhaps Rea realizes that her friend isn’t taking this the way she should, or that this isn’t going to work?

… and to conserve the tension (and serve as an internal cliff-hanger), we cut back to Furuya (OTS shot) watching as Rea climbs up a hill. Yeah she’s there. Again, that “natural” framing caused by the window. There’s a strange lack of balance caused by this particular framing itself: it causes a lack of depth perception on the left and right sides of the hill, which in turn creates tension within the shot. Furuya, being the go-to man when shit’s going down, rushes out to help her.

Oh hey there, lines. Having these two shots together is something you can only accomplish in animation (due to lighting effects). Now, I did mention that form was important, and this is possibly the best example of it. We transition from a hard image, one with colours and set lines for the characters, to one focused on their forms as shadows. And what we achieve is expression. Lighting, line, balance, and form are all wonderfully synchronized here. The only reason to focus on the forms rather than the internal lines of the characters in this shot is to play with the effect of the light. Rea is in front of a red pane, whereas Furuya is in front of a green pane – so why do they both have a green shadow on them? Shouldn’t they have red and green respectively? Take a look at colour symbolism: green is the colour of hope. Both characters are hoping for something. But the hopes are completely different from each others’, as we can see by the fact that they have an entire block of colour between them. And Rea’s hope is poised ominously against the red background, suggesting to the viewer that whatever she wants, it isn’t something nice. After all, red is the colour of blood.

Mirrors are fascinating things. Things always reflect oppositely, giving new perspective to whatever the subject of the reflection is. In this series of reaction shots, we have a hard play on the two-faced nature Rea’s father harbors. Minor things like the OTS shot confirming that we can’t sympathize with the father help to build tension.

And again, we’re at the photographing studio, where Rea’s father has picked an even more extravagant backdrop than the previous examples. The light glares against the viewers’ eyes, and the father’s face is consistently seen in the shadows. The balance in the first two shots stays with the father, indicating the stronger presence (this play of balances is also why you can often identify the “villain” in a movie immediately). Rea knows that this is completely out of the ordinary, cemented by the defiant leer and light shining across her face. Can she do anything about it? No, because her father is an untouchably powerful figure to her, someone “beyond her reach” as the third and fourth shots suggest.

I haven’t really talked about transitions much. Transitions are the visual effects (achieved by video editing) that take place between each shot. The most basic of these is the cut. Most reaction shots are made using this technique to flip back and forth between interacting agents. When a cut makes a huge jump in subject or narrative time, it’s called an “abrupt” or jump shot. These two shots are an example of that technique. Take special note, however, of the consistent colour tone between the jump. Rea’s going to do something with that flower, the reason is because of her father, and this shot sends warning bells to the audience. We know the flower is poisonous from earlier interactions.

You know that shot earlier which I explained was focused on colour symbolism and the forms of the characters? This is what I consider to be the “payoff” shot. In film, everything from the music to the story has a “setup” piece and a “payoff” piece. Just like that shot, the characters are balanced, and the faint glow of colour resides. But now, we know what the red behind Rea was all about: it’s that concoction Furuya is holding up to her. At this point, the shots have built up the expectation that Rea will do something with that potion – and she stores a bit of it in her vial.

A rather plain bit of visual symbolism here. Furuya has helped Rea cross a “forbidden line”.

Easy reference back to the OP sequence, where Rea disappears into a field of like flowers. 

If this image doesn’t creep you out somehow after being bombarded with all that foreshadowing previous, I don’t know what will. A wonderful use of artificial light to create the dual shadows suggesting a sinister intent. That smile falls unnaturally on her face, and the red background makes you remember that she’s holding a smile to hide whatever she’s going to do later.

But her father’s been watching this whole time, and…

she’s stuck. We’re back to a window, much reminiscent of the stalker shot I mentioned at the beginning of episode two with Rea’s father (book end imagery). When a visual image is repeated (just as in narrative), the idea is that something has changed. And her situation has dramatically changed, despite her growing up (taking up more space in the mirror) and being in the same place symbolically (left part of the mirror). She’s behind the mirror now, and she’s trapped more so than ever. The second shot cements this in. Notice how the weight of the picture fights delicately between the heavy-lined door to her left and her bed. She’s got the choice to run away or accept her condition. It’s never going to work to run away physically, so she tries to kill herself. It’s fascinating how unnaturally bright the glass vial is in her hands – the message that she’s going to take her foray into an unknown world.

And quite fittingly for a dramatic episode, the style of cinematography departs quite forcefully from the previous two episodes in episode three. Whereas episode one and two strove for a degree of heightened realism in their craft, episode three opts for a more stylistically emotive series of shots, especially towards the end of the episode.

You see what I mean? But anyways, the reason I picked these shots is because of the choice of colours. All of these colours are significant to the show. The first blend consists of the colours used construction site’s window panes where Furuya made his zombie potion. The second is the red that has already been discussed in that more artful shot of forms in episode 2. The third is the colour of the potion. Just small observations, but they’re interesting to note.

A super bright shot to accent Rea’s tears. Take note of how wholly unnatural this shot is. Not only are her tears black, but her skin is white enough that it blends against the background of this blog and lacks form. The line work is thickly accented, lending to how stark against the background her eyes are.

Rea wakes up. It’s worth mentioning that the line below her eyes is at the same position as the last shot I took from episode 2 (her holding the bottle up). The idea here is to express a degree of continuity and that Rea realizes she’s still in the same position as before she took the potion.

Confirmed for cool effect on target. Rea emerges from behind the blurred door, the blurriness of the door (and the strong leftward pull of the shot) paralleling her unease at trying to run away again. Secondly, the audience is aware that the potion worked on Babu. The question then, is whether Rea is effectively a zombie or not? The blurred silhouette is a staple of horror film (especially when paired with bloodied hands), and it’s played with for questionable effect her. Is it supposed to be ironic, effective foreshadowing, or both?

Again, the mirror trick we talked about in episode 2. Fortunately, the order of things are different! Her mother’s watching with a gentle face, and most importantly she’s on the right side. It’s an active act of defiance against her father’s explicit orders, which breaks the established order of things (in this case, her being on the left side of this repeated shot).

 

A series of cuts that effectively works as an establishing shot, this particular one serves the dual purpose of notifying the audience where Furuya is and instilling a sense of dread. The clouds are coming overhead, and everything is noticeably darker.

This shot serves a similar purpose as the “stalker” shot way back up there in the post. The combination of an aerial view and unnatural angle that can’t belong to Rea lend to the feel of her being “watched” by someone predatory.

And while the butler isn’t necessarily predatory, the person he alerts certainly is. Just look at those SEETHING FLAMES OF ANGER THAT BURN WITH THE IRE OF TEN THOUSAND FORSAKEN STARS. But besides the obvious visual symbolism, I think the more unsettling question is, what kind of picture was he intending for Rea to star in with a background like that? Take into consideration that there are no lines in this fire, only a poorly graded flame print, unlike the previous backgrounds he’s chosen – ANGER UNRESTRAINED.

Let’s skip ahead a good bit. Now we’re at the scene where Rea’s father tries to prevent her from contacting Furuya. Low angle shot from Furuya’s point of view, suggesting powerlessness and thus a sense of dread.

Can we talk hands for a while? Hands are those funny things you use to eat and stuff with. Now, this close-up wouldn’t really be anything on its lonesome. Why’s it so menacing? The catch is that the audience has been drilled to expect danger whenever the father’s hands are up in frame. It’s conditioning much in the same way Pavlov’s dog was trained, and it’s a technique every director eventually learns to manipulate. The show does it with his eyes as well, but it’s not as pronounced. Here:

Whether it’s slapping Rea across the face in an emotively aggrandized display of anger,

nonchalantly sentencing Rea to a life of what she feels is suffering and oppression,

threatening to castrate an unaware boy for providing Rea with sincere human contact,

or burning in silent anger, the audience knows that his hands are dangerous, and when they show up it’s go time.

Which is exactly why these shots are so dramatically heightened. Rea knows the hands are dangerous, and bats them away in the nick of time. Note also the unnatural lighting in the second and third shots – if you’ve managed to catch on to the reason behind the consistent use of artificial and unnatural lighting in this show by now, good job.

I’ll just break it to you right now. The lighting is purposefully ramped up or supplied artificially in Sankarea when something unnatural or wrong is occurring according to the main characters’ perspectives. Babu dies, Furuya’s world changes. When Furuya is making his potions, the lamps are so bright because he’s working to “create” and artificial “life.” When the father takes pictures of Rea, the artificial lighting signals to the audience that this is wrong. Look at every shot taken so far (and maybe even rewatch the show) and you’ll see that this use remains constant. In the context of the story, it’s used whenever something that drastically influences Rea’s eventual turning into a zombie occurs. Like this shot, wonderfully off-balance and dramatically accented.

Like here, when it’s used for foreshadowing.

Once again, his hand. The use here has a different target, but the effect remains the same. What with all the build up and expectation, we know this is going to go horribly wrong.

See what I mean?

And like I said, we’re getting more stylistic here. I don’t object to it, really. This kind of reaction shot is wonderfully expressive, and to me feels more grotesque than watching the actual thing happen. Don’t really need to explain it, since the picture itself is so fantastically expressive.

The use of low angle shots again for the same purpose as earlier. I actually object to the use of rain in this scene. While it’s expressive of the characters and certainly something that takes advantage of the easily manipulated animated medium, it’s far too cliche, like rain at a confession scene.

A great use of what’s called eye-line matching. Eye-line matching is a cut used to establish a logical connection between two cuts, to observe what the speaker or subject is looking at. It’s used painfully ironically here. Neither party is really “looking” at one another (recall the scene from the first image). And of course, Furuya feels like they never will from this point on.

The frame choice accents Furuya’s choice to turn away from Rea’s death, because he can’t stand looking at it any longer.

Once again, imbalance. A rather heavy use of it, too. Having all that space behind Furuya, in the same psychological vein as the watcher shot, implies that there should be something there. There is, he just heard it! It’s just something that’s going to upset the balance of his world.

There we go with that lighting again. Compare her clothes with Furuya’s.

Did those three images hurt your eyes? Good. They ramp up the lighting to its absolute maximum without making the shot unintelligible, even resorting to GLITTER.

That’s the end of episode three of Sankarea. It’s up for grabs how the show will morph in these terms from now on. I hope you enjoyed reading this incredibly long post as much as I liked writing it! Actually, two more things…

In hindsight, this shot was done in pretty bad taste. It’s arousing and all (in good part due to the lighting HAHA), but I think it’s rudely insensitive to her character. The rest of the three episodes goes on about how bad she feels about being held as a sexual object by her father, and yet this shot goes straight on to sexualize her. This may be a tad bit nit picky, but it does grind on my nerves.

Oh yeah baby, that two shot is wonderful. Couldn’t help myself I’m sorry I’ll leave.

_____________________Additional Comments________________________

Here’s the explanation for the remark I made about science fiction early in the post. There is a distinction that needs to be made between science fiction and sci-fi. I tend to make the case that science fiction is better understood as speculative fiction. Science fiction speculates on the effects of developments in science on humanity as a whole, in this age of progress (and arguably) dehumanization. Sci-Fi, on the other hand takes creations of wildly fictional (or implausible) scientific concepts and attempts to create engaging stories with them. The latter lacks the speculative sentiment that goes into the former. For example, Isaac Asimov’s Invisible Man is a classic example of science fiction. A more recent example may be Card’s Ender’s Game or (albeit loosely) Collins’ The Hunger Games. Examples of the latter include Star Trek and Star Wars. 

I would suggest, if you’re interested in the psychology of photography and image processing, to start here. This is some of the stuff the DP needs to keep in mind when crafting scenes and shots. There’s more to use, but I want to save them for my Mysterious Girlfriend X post.

Interesting tidbit! The same principles in editing (transitions) are conserved in manga and comics by the use of panels. Each panel is a “shot” and the lines separating each panel are the “cuts”.

Good cinematography is rather difficult to find in anime. Like I mentioned, the good majority of cinematography is just something to keep the eyes busy, rather than to impart any meaning to the viewer. And in some cases, this is enough. Take a look at Bakemonogatari and [C] – the money of soul and possibility control. Actually on second thought, unless you’re interested in the thought or craft behind it, don’t watch [c]. It’s a cluster fuck of fantastic ideas that didn’t quite make the cut. But ignoring that, these are two golden examples of cinematography used to make something that might otherwise be boring visually impacting. Bakemonogatari is infamous for the play between extreme close-ups, zooms, and unnatural angle to add an “oomph” to the dialogue. [C] uses some rather advanced techniques with the panning, focus, subjectivity, and choice of lens to make the world of battles something confusing and fascinating and the show would have been amazing if the rest of it wasn’t horrid. On the opposite end, take a look at Gankutsuou, Mawaru Penguindrum, or Clannad. Gankutsuou is a tragedy purely based on its narrative – and the artistic choices behind the cinematography and character design are painstakingly perfect. They convey a narrative on their own. Mawaru Penguindrum uses its cinematography to accent the unnatural and lends itself easily to symbolism and the themes it carries. Clannad, much in the vein of Gankutsuou, uses precise angles to hone in on the characters’ emotions (and convey them successfully to the audience).

DISCLAIMER: Like [C], good cinematography doesn’t imply good narrative or writing. I feel Sankarea is average/decent in that regard. It’s the cinematography that elevates my enjoyment of the show and (I would argue) the impact of the writing.

10 thoughts on “all the small things – cinematography in Sankarea

  1. One of the things that strikes me about the chair sequence in the first episode (your third example) is that it’s subtly off-balance in favour of Furuya’s side. While the whole layout is symmetrical and symmetrically lit, Furuya’s side has the reddish jacket (and the little white highlights on the near-vertical umbrella) to draw our eyes to it; Rea’s side has no similar bright spot colour. And the background to her side actually continues through the middle and on into Furuya, in fact it has a line that runs diagonally down into and through him (the drape of the curtain). In all of your pictures, Rea is entirely contained by the drape and never escapes its boundaries on the right, while Furuya is always at least a bit outside of it.

    Another obvious little thing I just noticed: in your second example, the shot carefully frames Furuya’s face and head against a little area of strong darkness (created by the shadow of his head on the thing behind him). A bright face on darkness is going to drag our eyes to it, and it’s at the focal point of the entire frame; the horizontal bench lines run through his face, there’s clear vertical lines above and below it, and we even have some convergence from the corners to lead us in. Then his gaze plus the lines of his right arm pull our attention down to what he’s working on. (Possibly this is too much analysis, especially of a still from an animation sequence.)

    (As a hobbyist photographer I’ve tried to get myself to pay attention to still composition, so sometimes this sort of stuff jumps out at me and I can’t help it.)

    • Thanks for your reply!
      For your first observation, you have a great point. Brighter objects tend to attract the eye strongly, and effectively work that way in the scene. When I wrote that part, I guess I meant that the first shot is in balanced relative to the other shots, rather than on its own. My personal experience with photography gave me a preference for form over colour (and ultimately got me into film composition), but you’re completely right in saying that colour is something of great importance in looking at that series of shots – especially given that we’re talking about anime, a medium that has so much potential with colour.

      On your second point: again, this is good. Like I said in the post, cinematography plays with the flow of the viewer’s vision in order to create a dynamic effect or emotional response. The shot in particular functions as a master shot doubling as an establishing shot, the latter effect being present precisely because of your analysis. The flow of eyes leads us to surmise that Furuya is up to something – and from that, our expectations of what the episode will be about are set. It’s a fantastic play of line and lighting that you’ve pointed out (and I missed).

      I don’t think you’re over-analyzing any shots. A great deal of the stills that I picked out for this post lingered on the screen for a noticeable period of time, effectively functioning as a still and a shot, which is why I called all of these “shots” instead of “stills”, the latter of which is more precise. If anything, I’d say your analysis is spot-on for the shots you mentioned.

  2. This is a fantastic post! I’m gonna spread it everywhere~ I find visual language so enchanting! We did in university 1/100 of it for a class that focused on education in films, but what you’ve got here it’s the real deal! Thanks a lot for sharing your fascinating knowledge with us!

    I must get down to this someday and learn more about visual culture

    • Whenever someone tells me that they learned something, or felt a bit moved by my writing to do something, it makes my day. You’ve made my day.

      What got me into researching the visual arts was my notice of how often underplayed or taken-for-granted its aspects are, despite their huge influences on our psychology. This eventually got me into the specifics of filmography, but there are so many more sub-disciplines in the study of visual arts. Take for example, typography or colour in marketing. I’m currently researching the former, since I finished doing some research and performing arts and sculpture.

      If I can make a recommendation, I’d suggest you check out Preble’s Artforms as your foray into the general field of the visual arts. More or less, everything in the various subdisciplines (from graphic design ranging to film design and even pottery) rides on the principles that Preble details. If nothing else, I guarantee that you’ll at least obtain a higher appreciation of the VAs. Our minds are fascinating things, and the artful creations of others’ minds are marvelous – when we put them together, it’s sensational. Visual interpretation is sensational.

  3. This post is amazing. Awesome job! This has definitely changed the way (or at least, hopefully it will) the way I view visuals. Though I doubt I’ll have as much success as you (or that every anime will be as accommodating as Sankarea), it’ll certainly be interesting to try it out.

    I really have nothing to add to the body, so I won’t try. With the last note on Science-Fiction, though, I wonder; should the genre be split up by its type of fiction, or by its existence in a subgenre? I’ve heard another review suggest a difference between science *fiction* and science *fantasy.* The review suggested science fiction as more based on *possible* technology, based on at least partially conceivable technology or concepts, whereas science fantasy is more about the technology just being “there.” In other words, it doesn’t rely on plausible scientific concepts or explaining the technology, but on just sort of “having it.” The only reason I thought of it is that you grouped Star Trek and Star Wars together, whereas the review that was in suggested them as examples for the different groups (Star Trek being science fiction and Star Wars being science fantasy).

    Anyways, once again, awesome article! You did a really good job, and I can tell you put a lot of work into this!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! Just a side note: there’s no reason to expect that you’ll have “less success” than me in viewing and analyzing visual art. The purpose of all these minute considerations is for an ultimate effect on the viewer. If that ultimate effect is lost or put to the side, artists have lost sight of the one true objective of their art – to impart a sense. It may be that from this sense we evolve meaning and message, but at the core, it’s a sense. An audience’s reaction is just as meaningful as a critic’s analysis – vocabulary and form be damned. Look for /consistency/ in your perception of art, and anything you say will be worthy of consideration. The ultimate goal of this post was to help people recognize that elements of composition like this do exist in anime, just as they do in paintings and film.

      That having been said, I like that you asked the question of science fiction vs science fantasy. It’s ultimately tangent to the body like you mentioned, but that’s no problemo. It’s a question that crops up every now and then, and it’s worth mentioning. For my answer, I’d like to maintain a distinction between science fiction, sci-fi, and science fantasy. In both science fiction and sci-fi, the author deals with, to put it in Rod Sterling’s words, “the improbable made possible.” Science fantasy, on the other hand, deals with “the impossible made possible.” Right away, we run into the consideration that’s presented in Clarke’s classic quotation: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Our question now is: at what point does “improbable” merge with “impossible”?

      If you’d so like, as I do, consider science fantasy and science fiction two separate /modes/ within the overarching genre of science fiction. In this sense, to say something is sci-fi simply suggests that there is some use of technology that is deemed “improbable” (or, at the very reaches of current human knowledge). It says nothing about the manner in which it is carried out. This is where the modal terms science fiction and science fantasy come in. Science fiction is the mode employed where this technology is used for a speculative purpose. Science fantasy takes the “improbable” a step further into “impossible”, thus creating an interesting interplay between our perceptions of possibilities. There’s also, of course, the chance of having the sci-fi mode within sci-fi as a genre, that would just be along the lines of using the technology internally, for narrative purposes and so on – “sci-fi played straight.” And equally possible is that the modes can interact with each other, so that science fantasy may contain elements of speculative nature. So, there’s nothing wrong with calling Star Wars science fantasy (mode) and Star Trek sci-fi (mode), because in the end, they’re essentially two options of what is possible within sci-fi (genre).

      Genre is a tricky thing, since it seeks to categorize things that may not be compatible with categorization. For example, take a look at magic realism. This is one of the most difficult genres to lay down a concrete definition for, and the term is almost prescribed on a subject-by-subject basis. In with this, comes the problem with nomenclature. Having terms like science fiction be separate from sci-fi is silly. If I could choose, sci-fi should be called science fiction, with the two modes speculative fiction (our science fiction), and science fantasy underneath.

      Now, don’t take all of the above for granted. I’ve had this discussion with a great number of people I consider in high regard, and I’ve seen good arguments for my proposed categorization and against it. It’s just one way to look at it. I hope that answered your question! In this case, I think it’s best to look at the differences between speculative fiction and science fantasy under the context of modes, rather than subgenres, of the genre science fiction (sci-fi).

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  6. This is a really interesting read. I really, really, REALLY look forward to your next posts on new anime c: Keep it up, I enjoyed this a lot.

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