24th Animation Division Critiques
Now,to the Future
Throughout the year 2020, the rampant spread of the novel coronavirus halted production on TV animation and delayed film production, while greatly restricting the activities of creative individuals, groups, and organizations. This is apparent in the number of entries received this year, 399, compared to last year's 543. It's true 2019 yielded a significant number of works, but I suspect there were more than a few people this year who agonized over whether to pursue their projects and came out figuring it was best they didn't. The number of entries thus decreased, but there were a noticeable number of artists who submitted multiple entries or who chose this Media Arts Festival to present their film school graduation projects. But if multiple entries show similarities, even if they're standalone works, judges must exercise a great deal of caution to evaluate them fairly. In a similar sense, past jury members must have had difficulties assessing spin-off films of TV shows and animation. An episode with outstanding direction or illustration must be judged as an episode, not as a series. But the Animation Division of the Japan Media Arts Festival strives to judge such animated works on the same playing field as short and feature-length films and streamed works. The selection process, while trying, proved enjoyable. Here's what I think: Intriguing entries should be rewarded. What I mean by "intriguing" is not an authoritative prescription of what animation ought to be, but instead what's intriguing now. In particular, what are younger generations intrigued by now and what are they dreaming up for the future? This is especially important because we had many submissions in many genres. The final screenings were partially remote, which I think is why so many of our selections look toward the future. And then there's diversity. The New Face Awards this year covered a wide range of styles in that sense, and I hope they serve as indicators of the variety of works that can get recognized. The Social Impact Award was established last year to recognize works that had an effect on digital media and people's behavior. The creator of Haze Haseru Haterumade is among those who've received some buzz for their online content in recent years, but what the artist Waboku symbolizes is the droves of younger generations, the people of now, watching videos on their smartphones and competing for viewers. This year, we've selected three feature-length works and one animated short for the Excellence Award. We noticed the imbalance and hesitated for a moment, but some among us observed that ours isn't that kind of competition. So, we went with our gut and the original selection. Violet Evergarden: the Movie is a spin-off of the TV animation but beautifully holds its own and merited evaluation as a great standalone film. Conversely, our Grand Prize winner Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! was delightful because of its serial format, because it did what could only be done on TV and pushed those boundaries besides. It received the highest marks from all members of the jury and nobody contested the results. When it was released on January 6, 2020, much of the world hadn't yet caught on to the nightmare of the pandemic. Originally, we pegged it for the Social Impact Award, believing it would move viewers to aspire to work in animation. But the situation changed dramatically. That's exactly why I'd love for younger generations like the ones streaming their work online, like Haze Haseru Haterumade, and for generations after them to watch Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! What we want is for this year's Grand Prize and Social Impact Awards to serve as a message from this festival to the future of digital media. I was injured this year and had to press pause on my projects. These personal hurdles had me feeling down, but serving as a member of this jury has endowed me with renewed courage and reminded me what a positive force animation can be.