Sol Levante is Netflix’s latest foray into anime, this time in partnership with Production I.G. The hand-drawn 4K & HDR anime production is billed as the first of its kind, aiming to explore new creative possibilities by utilizing the latest technologies.
The anime itself is short, with a runtime of around four minutes. But what Sol Levante lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Showcasing stunning production values, Sol Levante feels like the best cuts of a movie condensed into a bite-size portion. Despite the length, it’s a beautiful piece of work.
Oddly enough, despite all the cutting-edge technology involved in the production, Sol Levante‘s gorgeous visuals and impeccable attention to detail first had me thinking not of the future, but instead to the past, to an earlier time in anime’s history. More specifically, to the OVA works of the 1980s.
Spurred on by the new direct-to-video market, the OVA (original video animation) format rose to popularity as an alternative to how anime was being produced, financed, and distributed. Creators could create works and distribute them without prior television broadcast, enabling them to bypass some of the hurdles of the regular TV anime production such as production committees and censorship, to name a few. This, in part, led to an explosion of creative works noticeably different than the TV anime that came before, both in terms of content and production quality. In a sense, the OVA became the place for the anime industry to showcase its talents, and where creators could express their artistic vision to the fullest —works such as Angel’s Egg and Dragon’s Heaven are but a few examples.
That situation sounds somewhat familiar to what’s happening today with works such as Sol Levante. Looking back, anime has always benefited from the creation of new technologies and avenues of production, whether it was the birth of the OVA, the move to digital production, 3DCG, or the coming of streaming services as another means of creating and distributing anime. In that sense, surely the advent of 4K HDR will be able to spur such innovation and inspire others as well?
But things aren’t so easy as the anime industry is slow to change, as Sol Levante director Akira Saitoh puts it. And while the lessons learned detailed by the team on their tech blog might be useful to others hoping to create something similar, it also highlights the difficulties of incorporating new technologies into the existing production pipeline. If 4K & HDR anime is to be the future of the industry, then it seems like that will be a massive challenge they have to first overcome.
That’s just on the production side. My first reaction to Sol Levante was of amazement and awe at how wonderful it looked. But in truth, I was only able to watch it in low resolution on my small tablet screen, with an internet connection that wasn’t strong enough to stream it uninterrupted —a far cry from its actual intended viewing experience. The technologies needed to view it in full aren’t as easily obtainable to everyone, (which perhaps rings even truer outside of Japan) and not everyone has access to good internet connection or even a TV capable of watching Netflix.
And yet, even despite the low-resolution video, my reaction to it hasn’t changed. I can still see just how polished the production values are. I can still appreciate how great everything on-screen looks. But I can only imagine how amazing it must be to watch the short in 4K & HDR, with adequate speakers and a good enough connection to stream it.
I want that to come true. And while it might eventually will, that “new dawn” for a new age of 4K HDR anime feels like it’s still far away. I can only hope that for the anime world, the sun will rise sooner instead of later.
More details about the 80’s OVA boom can be read at:
- THE CHANGING ROLE OF MANGA AND ANIME MAGAZINES IN THE JAPANESE ANIMATION INDUSTRY by Renato Rivera Rusca
- Japanese Animation Guide: The History of Robot Anime by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs
Sol Levante is currently streaming on Netflix.
The Indonesian Anime Times | by Caesar E.S.