Víctor Navarro Remesal
We’re going to take a five minute commercial break and to compensate we show you these ugly and generic graphics. Meanwhile in Japan they also take commercial breaks, but they not only have more colourful and crazier ads than us (although not as mad as The Simpsons led us to believe) but they also say goodbye with such unique and creative bumpers that they deserve to be analysed on their own (as, back in their day, were legendary MTV bumpers, you know what I mean). The name with which these separating items are known make their aspirations quite clear: eyecatches.
For decades, the eyecatch has been an essential part of serialised anime, to the point that Miyazaki used it in his debut series, Future Boy Conan, despite the fact that it was broadcasted in the public (no ads) NHK channel. It isn’t only an industrial or structural element: it’s a creative space to show formal filigrees and references, underline the series identity and even give playful re-readings of it. It is quite often a mad format in which creators and spectators give ourselves away, for a few seconds, to gesture for gesture’s sake, in which creation is just a game. Despite all this, and despite it being as institutionalised as their serialised markings (openings, endings), the eyecatch is less remarked and discussed when, in fact, out of all anime wrappings, is the one better adapted to our contemporary logic: the eyecatch was already a GIF before the GIF existed.
An eyecatch, like the best GIFs, summarises in a few seconds and with a few signs a whole universe of meaning, an aesthetic declaration, a way of looking. It is, most of all, a tone anchor. Like vanity logos in films, they grant personality to titles and make them instantly recognisable: it isn’t the same reading Evangelion than seeing it appear after a smoothly animated lens flash. First-class authors such as Sinichirō Watanabe have used it to explore new fields and to constantly reinvent themselves: in Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo he shows the title of the series in a static eyecatch with different typography and design for each episode, but out of which emerges, due to accumulation and contrast, a clear and unique voice. Space Dandy, stylish and experimental to the max anime, goes one step beyond and adds motion, going from JPG to GIF and making easy for us to create a lysergic and kaleidoscopic gallery such as the one surrounding this text.
The eyecatch is also a complex micro-narrative format, such as the mute slapsticks in Lupin III, a series of very short gags without which the whole would lose some of its life. The eyecatch can remind us what the work is all about and also exaggerate its features to the point of hyper-stylisation, and it isn’t rare to be presented with action cuts that surpass the series itself when it comes to technique and attention to detail, as the slaps of One Punch Man. Others show caricaturised versions of its protagonists, like the dolls practising katas in Ranma ½, opening new doors, playing with the pieces, imagining alternative stories.
Still, some broadcastings and disc editions cut the eyecatch, because if there’s no commercial break there’s no point in breaking the watcher’s attention. This mutilation is so blunt as letterboxing. Maybe for resistance purposes, or simply because they’re cool, one of my pastimes is searching and collecting eyecatches in GIF format, and I have enough with just a glimpse of them to re-live again a whole meaningful and aesthetic universe. I would even dare say that, as any good GIFs, they can stand on their own, that they’re evocative even if you don’t know the original series: have a look at them and tell me if they don’t catch your eye!