A ton of anime characters wear some sort of school or military uniform, but that doesn’t mean the shows’ art is always consistent.
For a hit manga, the original creator generally handles all of the main character artwork, but things are quite different with anime. In order to create the appearance of movement, anime characters require far more drawings than a single person can produce, and over the course of a series any number of artists may be involved in creating the necessary images.
Every series, even those that are adaptations of existing comics, has a character designer who’s responsible for establishing the models the rest of the animators base their work off of. Once the designs are set, a team of highly skilled key animators draws the frames that are considered the most important, and from there the work flows to lower-ranking in-between animators, who fill in the gaps between key animation frames by drawing the missing transitions from one pose to the next.
Even if everyone is drawing the same character and aiming for a consistent look, the different artists’ individual styles will occasionally bubble up to the surface, whether intentionally or not. For example, here’re six of the most popular characters from Dragon Ball Z, Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Piccolo, Goten, and Trunks, as produced by nine different animators/animation directors, listed at the far left.
Here’s a similar comparison for the 10 magical girls to bear the Sailor title in Sailor Moon.
Some of these differences are no doubt the result of a series making it big and securing a bigger budget for later episodes, resulting in more polished artwork as the franchise goes on.
▼ The gradual evolution of Cardcaptor Sakura’s titular heroine
Changing fashions and trends are also bound to be a factor in incremental art shifts when a series reaches the longevity of a Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z. But even for two drawings produced relatively close in time to one another, if you look close enough you can spot minor variations in the angle of a character’s chine, the curve of his eyelashes, or even the way light reflects in his eyes, all of which are the subtle calling cards of that particular artist.
▼ Mikoto from A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun
▼ The Pokémon XY crew
▼ The hard-bodied cast of swimming anime Free!
▼ The soldiers of Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Not surprisingly, anime aimed at younger kids, such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, show a lot of variation, as their audiences tend to be less critical of artwork going off-model.
But even for the teams behind otaku-centric hits like Love Live!, K-On!, and the non-exclamation-point-accoutered Haruhi Suzumiya franchise don’t keep their character art entirely uniform.
But for hard-core fans, these signature artwork quirks just give them one more version of their favorite character to love.