How much time do you spend watching anime in a day? In a week? In a year? Let's say that all you did was go to the twenty-six CJAS showings in a Cornell school year. Adjusting for breaks, that's around 95 hours of anime: equivalent to 13.5 hours a day every day for a full week. Quite a bit of boob-tube time. Sure, you could get the same effect by simply not sleeping and doing nothing but watch anime during a four-day weekend, but far be it from your author to suggest something that extreme.
Now, we all know how movies fool our eyes into thinking that they see motion by running quickly through a sequence of still frames. Motion and activity are what dominate our lives, so it's no surprise that they dominate on the silver screen, too. Now, animators have a tough job because they have to reverse-engineer the appearance of motion by drawing still frames. Thanks to clever photography tricks, not every single frame must be drawn separately. Still, the more "motion" we see, the more work someone spent on it.
Since Cornell is in the United States, all of the anime you see in those 95 hours is displayed in the NTSC format at 30 Frames Per Second (well, 29.97, but who's counting). You can finish the derivation of how many frames of anime that is (hint: quite a few). And aren't you glad that those frames only last a 30th of a second each? Just imagine trying to get homework done if you had to watch anime at a minute per frame with, yes, over ten million frames in the average year of faithful showings attendance!
But hold on a moment. I just said that motion is important -- and hard to do in animation. Would it be stretching too far to say that the swifter the motion, the more likely it is to be important? The more likely to require painstaking effort to do right? There's an easy and somewhat blasphemous way to find out: the "Pause" button. What is motion that no longer moves? Something worth writing home about? Anyone who's ever taken a photograph would seem to think so.
It turns out that animation, a collection of stills artificially created to simulate motion, is very rich when that motion is halted. All of the tricks, the optical illusions, the fancy camera work -- all of the sleight-of-hand is laid bare for us to examine. Some of the stills will be disappointing: crude imitations of the characters we think we know with obvious "motion blur" or other distortions that can no longer fool our eye. Some are more bizarre: subliminal images snuck into the finished product by faceless animators bored or frustrated by long hours spent at a drafting table. The "beer-can missiles" from Macross and the "indecent" frames up Jessica Rabbit's skirt and into apartment windows in Disney films are some of the better known examples. But the thing that stands out most for me is the artistry behind many stills -- craftsmanship and emotion befitting any worthwhile painting. Which is exactly what many anime stills are. Paintings that, unless you freeze-frame them, might be gone before you even knew they existed.
To go to 0 FPS is to leave the land of the audience and enter the domain of the creators, a strange dimension where different sets of physical laws and aesthetic principles apply. To view an anime as still frames is to see it as the director sees it, as the animators see it. It is to see the child as he comes home from school every day, all smiles and scrapes intact. It is to appreciate that child for all of his aced and failed homework assignments, not just for his final GPA. It is a chance to appreciate all of the motion and drama of our favorite shows not at their destination but at their source. And perhaps marvel at how much the staff cheated to get from here to there.
Collecting LDs was my passport to 0 FPS-land, the freeze-frame button being among the most tempting on my remote control. Stills on optical media are pure joy to behold, crisp and clear and free of most of the problems that plague VCRs on pause. Hundreds of hours I've spent, shirking my classes and seeking frames that best typify my favorite shows, or perhaps best typify the things most people might miss about the shows. Believe me: there's no harsher test for whether you really like a series than capturing a few thousand frames from it. There's also perhaps no better way to appreciate a show for what it is: a remarkable triumph of artistic ingenuity over the boundaries of time. And there's certainly no better source for desktop background images.
So the next time you feel like shirking your classwork, try pausing some of the animation you like best. You may just be pleased by the results.