As fans of Anime, we all watch the medium for our own reasons, be they a widely held consensus among a large group of fans or an incredibly specific and personal anomaly that only we ourselves could ever understand.
And within this vast sea of reasons why people enjoy Anime is a neat little thing called “Sakuga”.
But what is Sakuga? Well, it’s a term used by Anime fans to describe particular moments in a show or movie where the animation quality improves drastically, often to increase the dramatic impact of a particular scene or to highlight the importance of a specific moment and make it stand out. It’s most commonly used to make fight scenes in action-based shows more hard-hitting and simply more awesome as a visual spectacle.
In recent years, there’s been a very vocal and active part of the Anime fandom who have been spreading their love for Sakuga all across the internet. Sakuga has become a really cool way for a large number of Anime fans to indulge in their hobby in a totally new and exciting way, and I think that’s really cool.
But, I’ll be completely honest when I say that Sakuga on its own, doesn’t really excite me at all.
Yes, I think Sakuga and the whole Sakuga movement are pretty cool things and I won’t deny that a large chunk of my favourite scenes in Anime became my favourite scenes as a result of being enhanced by Sakuga. But on it’s own, Sakuga is a pretty boring thing to me and there’s rarely a moment where the practice alone is what makes the consistently talked about Sakuga focused scenes so great.
Sakuga by itself, is simply not interesting to me. For a Sakuga heavy scene to be great it must not only be that awesome visual spectacle, but it must also have a context that means something to me as a viewer. I’m all for a scene being ridiculously well animated to the point my eyes feel spoiled by the sheer awesomeness and fluidity of every frame, but if the actual thing that’s happening carries no emotional weight, dramatic impact or interesting narrative context, it’s just a well animated scene. It’s a boring well animated scene that is merely nice to look at and nothing more.
One Punch Man is an example of a show that utilizes Sakuga really well. Almost every single scene in One Punch Man is beautifully animated with every single frame captured stunningly. It’s fight scenes in particular are just chock-full of brilliant Sakuga moments, with the final fight between Saitama and Boros being a particular stand out.
But despite that fight scene looking totally awesome and being one of the best looking Anime fights I’ve ever seen from the medium, for me, there wasn’t much else to it other than that. Because as a series, One Punch Man lacks dramatic and emotional stakes. Saitama has no equal. He’s the best of the best. He’s unstoppable, and it’s clear from the beginning of the fight that he’s going to win with ease and that Boros is going to be no match for the caped baldy. It doesn’t help that Saitama constantly wears a bored expression like he doesn’t care about anything that’s going on or who he’s facing.
And sure, that’s the joke of One Punch Man. That’s the entire point of the series. It’s aiming to be a satire of fighting Shounen Anime. But that very point is what makes all of these incredibly well animated scenes nothing more than just a handful of incredibly well animated scenes. I’m not hyped. I’m not on the edge of my seat, because there are no dramatic stakes. Whether the scene has good Sakuga or not doesn’t change that for me. Sure, it definitely makes it a far better visual spectacle, but as a viewer, that means very little to me.
Another example would be The Asterisk War. The show has a ton of well animated fight scenes that are pretty nice to look at. But beyond that, the scenes have no value at all, because the characters involved in those fights are characters I just don’t really care about. The Asterisk War was a very boring show to me. It’s narrative was messy and made no sense, its protagonist was one of the most generic and uninteresting leads I’d seen in the longest time and its emotional stakes and pay off were completely non-existent.
And as a result, I can’t find those nice looking scenes interesting because The Asterisk War is not an interesting show. It having well animated fight scenes does little to impress me. The show is not great in my eyes, with or without them.
On the other hand World Trigger is one of my all time favourite Anime. I adore World Trigger. I’m one of the few people who regard it as a favourite. If I used scores outside of my own personal rankings, World Trigger would no doubt have a perfect score.
World Trigger doesn’t have good Sakuga at all, and when it tries to, it often falls flat on its face. There’s maybe 3 scenes in this entire show that could measure up to the greatest Sakuga scenes, and all of them are fairly short bursts of quality animation. Most of its fight scenes are pretty janky with stuff appearing off model far too frequently and it sometimes looks plain ugly.
Yet, all of these fight scenes have something in common: they have incredibly dramatic stakes and a feeling of pathos that goes miles beyond anything that a show like The Asterisk War could ever achieve with its Sakuga.
Because World Trigger makes us care about its characters. It sets up meaningful conflicts between characters we want to see succeed being pitted against antagonists we want to see fail. We want Osamu to prove his superiors wrong despite him being presented as a useless weakling with no talent. We want to see Yuma trash Murakami and prove that he’s worthy of being accepted by the other Border agents who persecute him for being the same species as the enemy they’re fighting against. We want to see Chika blow up an entire building with her cannon-sized sniper rifle shots because we want to see her prove her worth to the rest of her team.
World Trigger is a series that lacks immensely in Sakuga, but it has so much emotional weight behind every battle, every narrative turning point and each of its characters actions, that I’d gladly take it over something like One Punch Man despite the lack of quality animation.
If given the choice, I would always choose a scene filled with a ton of raw emotion than a scene that was simply nice to look at. Because I find it hard to remain engaged in a show if I’m not emotionally invested in the events that are playing out in front of me, regardless of how much Sakuga is present.
Of course, Sakuga can be an amazing thing when it’s applied to a scene that aims for dramatic impact or has emotional weight behind it. Sakuga can be a great way to enhance the overall impact of such a scene, but there needs to be narrative context.
Hunter x Hunter (2011) is a fantastic example of how Sakuga can enhance an already impactful scene. There are a ton of scenes where the show really flexes its emotional muscles and by applying Sakuga, we as the audience really get to understand how devastating, joyous or dramatic these events are through a highly detailed change in facial expression or a beautifully blow to the stomach during an intense fight scene.
But these scenes were already impactful in the original Manga though. The very same original Manga that was shoddily drawn and often composed of scribbles and doodles due to the artist suffering from constant illness and back pain.
My point is, that for me, the best kinds of scenes, are the ones that combine the art of emotionally investing storytelling with the application of Sakuga. A well animated scene means very little to me if it lacks a meaningful reasoning behind it.
I think Sakuga is a great thing. Truly. I think it’s super neat that it’s created this little phenomenon in the form of a community that’s dedicated to indulging in well animated scenes.
But for me, Sakuga alone is not enough. There needs to be a meaning behind the events happening and a reason to care about what’s going on.
Because that’s my reason for watching this medium.
Of course, yours may be different. If so, don’t mind me.
What are your thoughts on Sakuga?