By most people’s standards, the above image will look a bit… ugly. It was snapped from episode 455 of One Piece, but, the thing is, I thought this episode was beautiful; beautifully animated, that is. The above is merely 1 frame in a sequence of animation depicting an old lady weeping. Her face changes its expression a lot in just this one scene, and while it may not look pretty, it’s the movement of the animation itself that conveys her emotion.
The animator, or sakuga, in charge (director) of this episode was Naoki Tate. He’s well known amongst One Piece fans as being a love or hate him kind of guy. Many tend to reject his aesthetic as too sketchy and strange in comparison to the typical One Piece style, some even misconstrue his episodes as low budget because they see the sketchiness and automatically assume it’s down to a lack of drawing talent. Suffice to say, that’s complete and utter nonsense. People are free to express their opinions, but images like the above have nothing to do with a lack of talent. They are stylistic choices on the part of Naoki Tate. Stylistic choices I happen to really admire.
I loved this episode.
It’s an anime original (I loathe the word filler, especially since One Piece‘s so-called filler episodes tend to be fantastic,) therefore, he’s been given an almost free reign to craft his own thing and the result is more akin to a dark fairy tale than the typically bright and breezy One Piece.
It looks really cold and it’s always snowing; one can feel the hardness of the rock, the way a smash of a hammer would reverberate up a frozen hand; the sky, grey and endless; the structure being built lacks any sense of design, it’s just dull and time-consuming. This is their life as prisoners, everyone wearing the same washed-out uniforms. It just feels hopeless.
It’s lovely, then, how the tables are turned. Amidst such despair, beauty prevails. Be it in the soft, ever falling of snow, the golden lanterns casting shadows against the concrete walls, or the way the moonlight defies the night. There is a sense of life to be felt; a real, honest human touch, that’s warming to the heart.
This is why anime remains so exciting to me.
One can replicate a story, a line of dialogue, a joke, but the sense of soul embedded within every frame of this episode, within the movement itself, can never be replicated.