Ask John: Which Genre Anime Have the Best Production Values?
Which moé, harem, lolicon, bishoujo, and hentai anime have the highest production values?
Properly identifying which anime in select genres have the best production values is practically impossible because the determination would require two pieces of information generally unavailable to the public. First, an observer would have to know the actual production budgets of countless anime. Second, a critic would have to subjectively determine which anime most effectively utilized their budget to result in cinematic excellence. After all, just having a big budget doesn’t necessarily mean that a production ends up looking great. Production funds can go to a lot of other non-visual components including screenwriting, directing, voice talent, music, and other clearances. As a result, it’s absolutely possible for a low budget production to look better on screen than a big-budget production. That situation usually doesn’t happen, but it can.
Given the impossibility of definitively distinguishing the anime that have the best combination of visual design, animation quality, voice talent, and musical score, I’m left with speculation and highly subjective nomination. The single moé anime that may exhibit the most impressive on-screen impact, in terms of technical animation quality, may be Kamichu. The series is tremendously visually imaginative; it’s lushly illustrated, and it’s deftly animated. The show is not the most beloved moé anime, nor the most exciting, but it may be the single moé anime that most appears to have spent a lot of money to creating a fluidly animated visual spectacle.
I have a suspicion that Kyoto Animation’s works aren’t quite as expensive to create as they appear to be. Independent animators including Makoto Shinkai and Yasuhiro Yoshiura have proven that expensive looking anime with photorealistic backgrounds, stylish lens flares, and CG enhancements can be produced on very small budgets. But production values aren’t literally about cost; they’re about appearances. Creative film makers aim for high production values with small working budgets. Kyoto Animation’s 2006 Kanon TV series is probably not the most expensive harem anime ever made, but it may be the most expensive-looking harem anime so far. The Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari OVA series is a different format from conventional TV anime, thus its production and production budget would be different from a conventional TV show. The look of the series, and especially its exceptional animation quality certainly elevate it to the status of a harem anime that looks like it spent a lot of money to achieve visual excellence.
Lolicon is not so much an anime genre itself as it is a component within moé and bishoujo anime. The bishoujo anime genre, loosely defined as anime featuring pretty girls, is abundant; therefore, it has many examples of titles with exceptional production values. In terms of television anime, the Fate/zero TV series was undoubtedly an expensive production that puts a lot of its money on screen. Production I.G’s 2008 TV series RD Sennou Chosashitsu is another that simply looks like it was an expensive production. Kyoto Animation’s current Hyouka TV series, and recent TV anime including Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls, Kannagi, Strike Witches, and Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight have all exhibited unusually high levels of visual design and animation quality. In terms of theatrical anime, I don’t know how much the 1999 Taiho Shichauzo movie cost to produce, but what viewers see on screen looks like it cost a lot to create. Similarly, UFOtable’s series of Kara no Kyoukai feature films probably didn’t cost as much to make as they look like they cost, which is a testament to their high production values.
Adult anime is frequently produced at minimal investment, resulting in countless terrible looking erotic anime. The Bible Black series is a modern fan favorite, but outside of its attractive character design and very effective use of lighting, the series doesn’t feature exceptional background art or animation quality. While Bible Black deserves to be a fan favorite, there are other adult anime with higher production values. Creator/director Satoshi Urushihara’s 2004 OVA Front Innocent has visual design that looks like a million bucks It’s a stunning looking production that’s not better loved because its story is very simplistic and minimal. The 1987 Urotsukidoji OVA remains a highly respected classic, in part, because it features tremendous visual creativity and feature film quality animation. Many of the OVA productions from animator/director Teruaki Murakami look like they cost much more than they probably did, including Kuro Ai, Yakin Byouto Nanase Ren & Yagami Yu, and Shintaisou Kari, because of their lush visual design, vibrant use of color, and fluid animation. Creator/director Yasuomi Umetsu’s 2001 OVA series Mezzo Forte isn’t immediately thought of as a “hentai” anime because it contains more action than sex. But it is an adults-only title, and if it can be considered a “hentai” anime, than it’s one of the foremost productions that looks like it cost more to produce than it probably actually did cost.