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Picture Perfect: 7 Anime with Unique and/or Beautiful Visuals

It’s been a consensus among many, that the films produced by Studio Ghibli are absolutely breathtaking in terms of plot and visuals. In fact, Studio Ghibli’s distinct and dazzling visual styles became the main attraction of Japanese anime movies to international audiences. Unfortunately, this appreciation for aesthetics is not shared by its anime series counterparts – possibly due to their production time constraint and limited workers. However, this does not mean that all anime series lack quality. Below are some anime series that manage to embody the high quality of the silver screen in their own way.

 

1. Hyouka

First Episode Date: April 23, 2012

No. Episodes: 22 + OVA

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Mystery, slice of life

Studio: Kyoto Animation

A well-written anime with underrated visuals, Hyouka follows the four members of the Classic Literature Club as they solve past and present mysteries occurring in their surrounding environment whilst gaining a better understanding of each other and the people around them. The darker tones of the school environment and the lack of “natural” anime hair colors such as pink, blue, or green may make this anime’s visuals overlooked in favor of those with flashy aesthetics. Nonetheless, when observed closely, its art style possesses a distinct charm that sets it apart from other animes: the juxtaposition between the different environments in the anime. On one hand, the human environment is portrayed as a tone-downed atmosphere through the usage of dim lighting within buildings and earthy tones of the surrounding environment.  Alternately, the natural environment is colored with bright contrasting colors such as scattering pink cherry blossoms in spring, the beaming Sun and bright blue skies in summer, the warm, fiery shades of tree leaves in autumn, and the pale white mounds of snow in winter. Indirectly, this juxtaposition made Hyouka one of the most realistically drawn anime in the past decade.  

 

2. K (K Project)

First Episode Date: October 5, 2012

No. Episodes: 13

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Action, mystery, fantasy, science fiction

Studio: GoHands

Taking place in a fictional Japan where the existence of “Kings,” who are people granted with supernatural powers, and their respective “clansmen” have both intentionally and unintentionally influenced the course of history and society at large, the story follows a carefree high school student, who unwillingly gets dragged into a conflict between two clans and their respective Kings as they’re trying to catch a clansman’s murderer with which the student shares an uncanny resemblance.

“High saturation” and “vibrant lighting” are the two most accurate descriptions for this anime’s aesthetics. Especially when it comes to showcasing the characters’ powers and physical capabilities, what should be a small flame is tinged with crackling hues of reds and pinks, what should be a simple force shield becomes a translucent dome of brilliant, bright blue energy, and what should be a brief collision of swords becomes an opportunity to let the audience fully appreciate the smooth, captivating lighting effects in this world, as if a real-life Sun is glaring down and casting genuine shadows on the people below, appropriately changing angle, position, and intensity as the characters move through the screen.

The above style of animation seems to be the studio’s, GoHands’, epitome whose subsequent productions feature similar lighting techniques that differ only in the selection of color schemes or the abundance of certain shades. And, of course, this particular anime’s continuation, including a sequel film, a second season of the television series, and a seven-part anime film series, feature the same animation style. However, being the first and arguably most well-known anime from the studio to be drawn in this way lands it a definite spot on this list for unique and/or beautiful visuals.

 

3. The Land of the Lustrous

First Episode Date: October 7, 2017

No. Episodes: 12

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Action, drama, fantasy

Studio: Orange

Set in a land where the “Lustrous,” humanoid manifestations of gemstones, are forced to fight the “Lunarians,” creatures from the moon who descend every few days to harvest pieces of the former for weapons and decorations. As expected of a cast of characters literally made of gemstones, the brightness and luminosity of their designs, especially the individual hair colors and the way their respective gemstones catch the light, are the most prominent features of this anime’s aesthetics. The background itself, with the wide grassy plains, the white-gold beaches, and the vivid azure sky, mimics this saturation without making it all too intense for the untrained eye.

 

4. Violet Evergarden

First Episode Date: January 11, 2018

No. Episodes: 13 + OVA

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Drama, coming-of-age

Studio: Kyoto Animation

In a fictional land reminiscent of post-WWI Europe, a young former soldier, the eponymous Violet Evergarden, tries to adapt to ordinary life as an “Auto Memory Doll,” the anime’s version of a ghostwriter, after being separated from a loved one during her time in the military. Travelling through the continent with only her typewriter, Violet slowly learns what it means to have emotions, what it means to be human, and, most importantly, what it means to love and to be loved.

“Looks like an anime film” is a comment that many people have made upon watching the first episode of Violet Evergarden — and for good reason. Consistently breath-taking in terms of the individual and encompassing storylines as well as the finely-tuned details of the world and character designs, this anime puts the audience through an emotional rollercoaster in each and every one of its episodes, and the overall lighting, a satisfying mix of soft and vivid colors, perfectly mirrors the emotions of the characters within every single scene.

 

5. Tsurune

First Episode Date: October 22, 2018

No. Episodes: 13 + OVA

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Sports, drama

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Tsurune follows the members of a high school Kyūdo Club as they strive to improve their archery skills in time for the regional competition, strengthen the bonds between new and old friends, and, finally, overcome personal obstacles by learning to place their trust in their fellow teammates. Yet another anime by Kyoto Animation, but despite the fact that Hyouka and Violet Evergarden already represent two vastly different settings and color palettes, and thus works in showcasing the exceptional range within the studio’s productions, it seems only fair to include this underrated anime in the same list, for it’s a perfect blend of the level of detailing, color tones, and lighting effects of the former two. Specifically, Tsurune features a better lit school environment than in Hyouka though it’s still toned down enough to allow a subtle contrast with the vibrant glow of the Sun, the warm tint of the various neighborhoods, and the soft, colorful hues of the surrounding nature.

 

6. GREAT PRETENDER

First Episode Date: June 2, 2020 (USA)

No. Episodes: 23

Status: Completed

Genre(s): Action, crime, comedy, adventure

Studio: Wit Studio

A Japanese swindler gets roped into a string of extravagant crimes after being tricked by a group of international con artists. As the characters travel around the world to commit numerous heists and acts of trickery, the audience is greeted with a bright and colorful rendition of famous real-life cities, including Los Angeles, Singapore, London, Shanghai, and Tokyo, that serves as a perfect accompaniment to the group’s hilarious yet emotionally-charged antics.

The watercolor-esque background with its vivid blends of deep red and sunset orange mixed with a pop art style that absolutely makes sure we won’t forget the crisp blues and greens in favor of the former may be expected to overshadow the simpler, solid-filled character designs at first. But it doesn’t take long into the first episode before the audience gets hooked by this subtle contrast between character and environment, the latter of which actually captures the lovable absurdity of the storyline and the vibrant expressiveness of the cast without losing that sense of “painting meets animation.”

 

7. Akudama Drive

First Episode Date: October 8, 2020

No. Episodes: 12

Status: Ongoing

Genre(s): Action, adventure, science fiction

Studio: Pierrot

In this cyberpunk anime whose main inspirations include Blade Runner and the works of Quentin Tarantino, a group of S-ranked criminals or “Akudama” are recruited to perform a series of highly dangerous tasks by a mysterious employer, quickly putting themselves, an ordinary person, and a low-ranking Akudama in the radar of the “Executioners,” a specialized task force with a license to kill.

The most recent anime to be included in this list, Akudama Drive sets itself apart early on in its run through its gritty portrayal of a post-apocalyptic Japan. Neon lights and colorful holograms are paired with a smog-filled sky and metallic cityscape, again proving how the juxtaposition between dull darkness and vibrant luminosity within a single animation can give maximum depth to its portrayal of a fictional world. The dystopian “grunge vs. techno” aesthetic does not let the audience take the characters’ relatively casual and everyday appearance for granted, rather it allows us to appreciate this speck of relatability within a country set years and years into the future.

 

 

 

An aspiring writer and a nerd in almost every sense of the word, with a deep interest in books, film, anime, manga, and games.
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