Impact frames

I’d like to note this recent interview at artist_unknown with Yuu Yoshiyama. Yoshiyama’s stylish impact frames, effects and (on occasion) starkly-shaded faces have caught even my untaught eye in Star Twinkle Precure and Healin’ Good Precure.

Near the conversation’s end, Yoshiyama expresses a heartening desire to keep working on kids’ anime. Older fans too often disregard anime for children. In the circles where I find myself, I can understand how this happens: many turned to anime in their late childhood or their teens as an alternative to Disney.

However, anime began as children’s animation, barring one or two exceptions such as the Sennin Buraku adaptation. As standout kids’ shows prove, works for children can excel just as much as works for any other audience. So Yoshiyama’s aspiration was good to see.

Just as good to see was their talk of Masami Obari’s work on Dangaioh (1987–9) as an inspiration. Dangaioh‘s a delight, and these days it needs every mention it can get.

I found my thoughts most fired, though, by Yoshiyama’s remarks on impact frames. Now, I’m no sakuga fan, but I do love impact frames, and in a very minor way I collect them. In the English translation at artist_unknown, Yoshiyama describes their view of impact frames thus:

I would love people to ask themselves: ‘what the heck was that single-cool-lonely drawing?!’ so I add stuff like the impact frames onto my cuts. I’m aiming for you all to look at my parts over and over, it’s essentially bait for you to do so. To me an impact frame is the Jack-in-the-box of animation techniques.

Impact frames are one or more frames at the moment of an animated strike or explosion. They deliberately differ from the frames which come before and after, using just colour and shapes, or a representational image, or even sometimes text. They might, perhaps, simulate a sudden light’s blinding effect.

Impact frames crop up in fight scenes and action spectaculars, but also beyond them. They can heighten the comedy of more everyday impacts, as the following two examples from Sailor Moon show:

I like them for all these reasons, but I also like them because their blink-and-you’ll-miss it nature lets them carry hidden in-jokes.

I turn now to one of Yoshiyama’s contributions in Star Twinkle, attending especially to Cure Cosmo’s attack beginning about thirteen seconds into the clip linked.

Cure Cosmo is a shape-shifting cat-alien phantom thief (it’s complicated). Appropriately, the magic she launches here contains cat shapes!

This isn’t an impact, but these cat-eared shapes do only appear for one frame, which might lead someone ignorant, like me, to wonder where the borders of the concept of ‘an impact frame’ lie, and what the concept shades into.

When Cosmo’s magical projectile arrives it strikes its target like a big cat-eared zone of force.

Or perhaps like a big zone of cat-eared force.

Then the first impact frame of the ensuing explosion delivers a feline shape, in the same section of the screen taken up by Cosmo’s magic in the previous shot, above:

Notably, the cat-shapes visible in the magic appear both cuter and more stylised, while the cat in the impact frame snarls out at us.

Perhaps this contrast says something about Cure Cosmo. Her magic is cute and fun to watch, but feels less cute and less fun to villains on the receiving end. Or, elaborating slightly, Cosmo’s outward appearance conceals her claws. As a phantom thief (in space!), she spends a hefty chunk of the show wielding various disguises to free her home planet and recover its looted treasures, and so, leaving intention aside, this approach to the contrast at least fits with Star Twinkle seen more broadly.

On the other hand, like many anime, Star Twinkle doesn’t beg for character analysis. And if we let that devil, intention, into our thinking, we’ll probably grant that these frames might just come from a general sense of fun.

However we’re meant to think of them, impact frames add vim. I’ve grown to enjoy spotting them and thinking through different types. As a dilettante, I can only offer a few scattered samples from my cabinet of curiosities.

Sometimes onomatopoeia lurk within. When I pause to catch one of these, I destroy the experience of the impact itself in order to read text stating the impact. Here’re a few Latin-alphabet examples from Dancouga (1985), Daitarn 3 (1978–79) and Fist of the North Star (1984–7):

Sometimes impact frames carry allusive in-jokes. The impact frames for one blow in the 1991 Sukeban Deka OVA include a cute depiction of, as Matteo Watz recently pointed out to me, the hero of Wanpaku Ouji no Orochi Taiji (1963). (I’d like to thank Matteo also for generously sparing some time to talk about just what impact frames are.)

I’ve no idea where impact frames originated, but they really entered their in-joke role in full pomp when consumers got their hands on easy record-and-replay devices—so, initially, videotape. They flourished, that is, when television began to make the shift from industrial to information age, and when the more fannish type of fan could pore over anime in a newly atomised way.

There’s the rub, of course: thinking about these means looking at tiny slices of a much larger whole. Or, as in Sukeban Deka‘s allusion to a classic from the early era of ambitious Toei films, looking at tiny slices drawing seemingly-irrelevant links between several much larger wholes.

Still, as with Cure Cosmo’s magic, impact frames might sometimes flow into an anime’s broader facets. I think, too, that they sometimes become part of the identity of an anime across the work of multiple animators. (And storyboarders, if anyone ever deliberately storyboards these things!) I’d guess that they do this in Sailor Moon, for instance, and especially in Dancouga, which is full of the things.

The majority of impact frames don’t deliver in-jokes or onomatopoeia. Most typically, they’re non-representational uses of shape and colour which throw a moment’s extra jolt into action animation. And we shouldn’t despise that! But I’ll leave you with the most decadent impact frames I know. These decorate a slap at the very end of God Bless Dancouga (1987), and last long enough that they push the concept’s limits.

Did you catch that? Let’s slow it down to a quarter-speed:

God Bless Dancouga pursues decadence in all its aspects, and this, one of its final sequences, sets a cheerful capstone on the many, many impact frames scattered through its parent show.


3 thoughts on “Impact frames

  1. I just noticed; those impact frames from the first Sailor Moon example are the exact same ones used in some episodes of Fist of the North Star, which is why it looks so stylistically different.

    Inside gag, or convenient cel reuse by Toei? Or both?


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