Over the past couple days, Japanese Twitter and message boards have been tearing down the mystery show 名探偵コナン (Detective Conan, known in the west as Case Closed). In particular, the filler episodes that don’t reflect cases in the manga—referred to as aniori in Japan, short for “animation original”—tend to garner a lot of criticism. Early on, this was because aniori episodes would change plot or case details in ways inconsistent with the overall story, but this week the focus is on the art/animation quality.
Since this is a touchy subject, let me say that—particularly with high-profile series like Detective Conan—quality inconsistency is usually a matter of external factors like staffing issues and deadlines, rather than artists’ lack of skill or effort. The output needs of most serialized works are nearly superhuman, and Conan is no exception. The show has released an episode every week for 1049 of the 1383 weeks since its 1996 debut. Furthermore, the missed weeks are largely due to things like natural disasters or national holidays, the latter being supplanted with special episodes with longer runtimes than normal.
All that in mind, let’s look into some of the Japanese discourse around the decline in quality, without dragging the staff through the mud too hard (I love the show!). First, a couple examples of specific errors Japanese viewers are discussing:
The most common phrase I’ve seen used by Japanese audiences is 作画崩壊 (sakuga hо̄kai), which literally translates to ‘drawing decay’. Sakuga may evoke lavish animation for those familiar with sakugabooru and @randomsakuga, but the term really refers to drawings in general.
While sakuga hо̄kai can be used to describe bad art, it gives the reader a sense of inconsistency in particular. In this case, the sentiment is that the animation is uncharacteristically bad, compared to the rest of the work. I think this feeling has been strengthened by the fact that this episode came out after a 1-week delay. Viewers feel that the animators should’ve had more time to polish than usual.
While this term appears in many of the posts criticizing this episode of Conan, a lot of slang shows up, too. The three terms I saw cropping up most were ダイナミック (dainamikku), キャベツ (kyabeji), and ヤシガニ (yashigani), so let’s talk about those. The terms actually have a surprising amount of history and context as to why they describe poor art!
The first term, dainamikku, is simply the English ‘dynamic’ adopted as a loanword. It might be a bit surprising to think of being ‘dynamic’ as a bad thing in anime, since it can often be pretty stiff, but Japanese audiences use the word a little differently than we do.
When I first encountered the term, I figured it had to do with inconsistency, since the English word refers to things that are often changing. My assumption was it had something to do with characters being off-model between shots and episodes. The actual origin, however, is an anime called DYNAMIC CHORD.
DYNAMIC CHORD‘s second episode has its characters eating lunch at a café. When they step out, they look down the street, and are greeted with the above sight. This and other shots like it are commonly referred to as ダイナミック違法建築 (dainamikku ihо̄kenchiku), meaning ‘dynamic illegal architecture’, with dainamikku for short. If you look at the scene, you’ll see the sidewalk is no more than a couple inches wide in front of the café, which is definitely a zoning violation. The sidewalk is totally useless at that width!
The scene has become a meme in Japan, and any art errors that result in something that’s not up to code might get called dainamikku by the otaku there. A few examples I’ve seen are forks in the road with the painted lines splitting incorrectly, sidewalks with no curb (so they’ve seemingly sunk into the ground), and streets with perspective inconsistencies, resulting in strangely-shaped buildings.
The Detective Conan episode didn’t feature any dynamic architecture that I saw, but it did feature some strange anatomy at times. If a character’s proportions don’t make sense, sometimes dainamikku is used to describe them.
The second term, kyabeji, is once again simply the English ‘cabbage’ used as a loanword! It comes from the anime 夜明け前より瑠璃色な (yoakemae yori rurishyokuna), also known as Crescent Love. This anime became infamous for a scene in the third episode. In it, a character is preparing cabbage, which is abruptly replaced with a featureless green ball.
This scene achieved memetic status in the west, as well, I think largely due to this imgur album, so you may already know about it and its legacy. What you’re probably less familiar with, though, is how the accident came to be. According to a staff member, the “cabball” was never supposed to make it to the air. Here’s a quick translation of their statement:
My direct supervisor at the anime studio is actually the one responsible for that cabbage drawing. In actuality, he’s a great artist, but he decided to have a little fun with that cabbage, you know? It was sort of a visual gag.Nakasako Sakana, at Summer Comiket 2016
Due to the anime industry bubble of the time, we were so busy we didn’t even have time to drop dead. When the time came to send the keyframes to our inbetweeners in China, he was supposed to send that drawing over, along with a picture of a real cabbage. Well, I heard that the photo never got sent, and the inbetweeners left it exactly as it was.
A lot of the egregiously-bad animation from around the turn of the millennium has similar stories. Following the international success of Evangelion in the late 90s, anime took a more strongly profit-driven focus, and the industry was flooded. 2006’s Musashi -Way of the Gun- required complicated gun/swordplay, but with dozens of anime in simultaneous production, there simply wasn’t the staff to give it the attention it needed, domestically or otherwise. As a result, musashi, too, is sometimes used as a shorthand for bad animation.
Still, the cabbage incident retains a uniquely international level of infamy, and I think is part of the reason why food in high-budget anime and games is so lavishly animated to this day.
Our last animation-trashing term of the day is yashigani, which translates directly to ‘coconut crab’ in English.
The etymology here goes back to the 1998 anime adaptation of Lost Universe, which mangaka Hajime Kanzaka began working on after Slayers. The series had a troubled development, taking place near the start of the anime bubble we mentioned earlier. Once again, animators were overworked and understaffed, and the production suffered, as a result. This time, however, the problems went beyond a mere keyframe: the opening credits weren’t even done!
Despite staff who would later prove their ability (like director of Boogiepop Phantom Takashi Watanabe), Lost Universe‘s threadbare budget—supposedly one-eighth Cowboy Bebop‘s, for the same number of episodes—management problems, and sparse staff would all culminate in one of the most legendary failures in anime history: when episode 4 of Lost Universe aired, everything from the characters to the backgrounds were incomplete!
Since the episode was titled ヤシガニ屠る (Yashigani Hofuru, Coconut Crab Carnage), this came to be known as ヤシガニ事件 (yashigani jiken, the coconut crab incident). In this side-by-side comparison, I found it pretty interesting to see keyframe-only, pre-production animation. The inbetweeners really do quite a lot of work!
I think we can all be grateful that Detective Conan doesn’t seem to be doing quite that badly. Still, being compared to some of the most notorious missteps in anime history is likely to prompt some kind of response. As for my thoughts, I’ll just say that one of the biggest criticisms of the show is its length, which makes it daunting for newcomers. On that note, I think this Japanese viewer said it best:
Since even things like the OP clearly aren’t ready, and the older episodes’ art is, by comparison, a little more… Well, let’s just say I might be happier if they reran the older episodes occasionally instead of making a new TV original every single week. I have a feeling that probably won’t happen, huh?@dcscarlet1412
Is there any Japanese slang you know of? You can post about it below, and maybe you’ll help someone else learn something cool! Also, if you liked this article and want more, not only do I have a couple on the site already (like the Harvest Moon one about animal commands), but I post new ones every Thursday. You can keep up with those new posts on Twitter, where I mention them as soon as they happen!