With the seemingly decline of 2D animation as they appear less and less as feature films in theaters, in one area is it still prevalent. That is Japanese cartoons, or more commonly known as anime. While I am an avid watcher of anime, being in the field of animation, I cannot help but cringe and die a little inside as I watch. As one of the prevalent leaders in 2D animation, one would expect developments and improvements over the years but unfortunately the animation and quality have remained the same, if not worse. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the popularity and the long running of a series and the quality and fluctuation of the animation. There are 12 principles of animation, determined by the Nine Old Men of Disney and they are "overlapping action and follow through", "timing and spacing". "squash and stretch", "arcs", "anticipation", "ease in and ease out", "exaggeration", "appeal", "staging", "solid drawing/posing", "straight ahead vs pose to pose", and "secondary action". Anime seems to be lacking in certain areas that make up animation, particularly with overlapping action and follow through and secondary action. There is the natural follow through that comes from redrawing poses as it moves through time but certain secondary action would be missing and they are the most apparent in the face. Often times as characters talk, only the mouth moves and no other areas of the face is being affected even though muscle tension is a natural occurrence. The lack of blinks and eye darts are already giving a characters an eerie quality and the stiff facial features do not help. Another area that can often be found to be lacking is in the animation of secondary characters. Even while standing still, humans are not absolutely still but there is small static movement. Often times, secondary characters who are not the immediate focus of the shot are completely still. Even as the shot goes on for several seconds to a few minutes, the character would stand completely still without any sort of movements at all.
There are many anime shows where the eye focus isn't correct, eyes are actually drifting in opposite directions, inconsistencies between shots, and flounder mouths (mouth shapes drawn on the side of the face instead of actually drawing a face moving). While some may try to attribute this to a "style", that is hardly an excuse. What it actually is bad drawing and bad animation. Styles are subjective but nothing will compensate for a strong foundation.
The lacking quality and stagnant progress of anime may be attributed to the culture in Japan. Contrary to some beliefs, anime is a very small market in Japan and is mainly aimed at children and fanatics, or more commonly known as otakus. Additionally, the anime aired on television are often treated as nothing more than commercials for products and so many errors are apparent when aired but the studio goes back and cleans up the artwork for dvd and bluray releases. The budgets also tend to be small and a lot of goes towards the voice actors. Another unfortunate circumstance in Japan is that the cost of living is very high but the pay rates of animators are very low. There was an interview that I read some time back about how a woman had to move back in with her parents just to be able to survive and do what she loved to do in 2d animation. However, meanwhile her friends who have gone into video games are better off.