Appreciating Anime: Aspect-to-Aspect Transition

Ever thought why Nichijou and Non Non Biyori and a lot of slice-of-life anime feature a lot of panorama shots or animated cities or daily activities that seem to have nothing to do with the story? You’d think they’re just filler, but that’s not the case. Fellow anime fans, what you’re seeing is called aspect-to-aspect transition, which is a pretty common feature in Japanese animation.

In his seminal work, Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud explains the six transitions that a comic book has. One of these transitions is the aspect-to-aspect transition. This type of transition is rather weird compared to the more common moment-to-moment transition or action-to-action transition which viewers are more accustomed to. We often think as a “transition” as being something “dynamic”, “moving”, “getting from point A to point B over a given amount of time”. For example, in most fighting scenes, both characters trade blows. Sometimes, some slow motion action occurs. In a comic book, this act of fighting is often spread over two or more panels. Usually, one panel would have a character doing an action, followed by another panel showing the results of the action, like the comic strip below:

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Notice how the intense fight is broken down into many panels, which gives the illusion that everything happens in slo-mo? That’s a mixture of action-to-action and moment-to-moment transition.

On the other hand, the aspect-to-aspect transition is basically “outside” of time. It effectively freezes time, just to show things that might not be relevant to the story or have no actual use in advancing the plot. So, why is it there? The function of the aspect-to-aspect transition is not to advance the story per se, rather, it’s there to provide a breather or a chance for the viewer to be emotionally immersed in the world that they are watching. It is there as a way to give the viewer the feeling that they are somehow, placed within the virtual world that they are watching and experiencing it. It is also known as the “wandering eye” and is extremely popular in Japanese works, but is not that common in Western works. A prominent example of master usage of the aspect-to-aspect transition, combined with a moment-to-moment transition can be seen in Tezuka’s Buddha:

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Nerdwriter already made an awesome video to explain this aspect-to-aspect transition using Ghost in the Shell as a case study:

As Nerdwriter says, aspect-to-aspect transition emphasizes on the viewer to be “in” the moment, rather than just watching characters play about in a disconnected virtual world. The aim of aspect-to-aspect transition is, once again, to drag you into the world and be a part of it, and to do that, your emotional self needs to be “in” and “present” within the world.

That’s why there’s a lot of still shots/scenery shots that seemingly make no sense or just seems like boring filler in slice-of-life anime. The goal of slice-of-life anime is to provide an aesthetic experience for the viewer, and to provide that, the anime must be able to actually immerse the viewer in its world. Thus, to fully enjoy slice-of-life, the viewer should be aware of these aspect-to-aspect moments and accept them as being part of the viewing experience. If a viewer really wanted to get the full experience of Non Non Biyori, then enjoy the random scenery shots that appear once in a while!

That’s all for now, hope you enjoyed Appreciating Anime, which is something that I hope I can do regularly. Until next time!

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