The physical environment is a key aspect of narrative device and storytelling and in the world of Anime, good use of the settings and atmosphere for plot and character design could enhance our experience as viewers. This is something we can achieve through the use of architecture.
In Anime, there are so many things that you can tell through the simple use of a building, the backgrounds can communicate a huge amount of information to the audience without having to say anything. All the information and history behind a building design can be simplified into a single frame, and that in itself is an element of storytelling even if it sometimes occupies only fleeting seconds of screen time.
Anime writers incorporate various architecture backgrounds to help to establish a spatiotemporal setting for the story, ranging from old and medieval villages too futuristic and high rise cities. If the story is taking place in a real city, people can easily recognize the place through the landmarks; for example, Tokyo has the Tokyo Tower and Paris has the Eiffel Tower.
But the real difficult part of designing background art is when the place is not real.
The built environment in a fictional work is not just represented but in fact created, since the background artist, in this case, have to design, from scratch, completely new imagined and fictional world settings with limited, or sometimes no reference at all, to the real world.
Sure we can still use real-world references to communicate major facts about the new imagined city which is something architecture is really good at; establishing a social and political status without needing to explain anything through dialogue. We can easily tell, just by how a city is layered, whether the society is living in peace, is chaotic, post-apocalyptic or dystopian.
One of the most recognizable works of Fantasy animation is “Spirited Away” by Studio Ghibli, a masterpiece that became the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. If you haven’t seen it already, go watch it now!! This animated movie, in particular, demonstrates a very clever use of architecture where we navigate through many different places in the same location but still be able to identify them because of the unique design of each place. The buildings have a typical Japanese Architectural style influence in an original way along with very rich interiors in term of details which relates well to the characters, the story and to the fictional built environment.
Another thing that architecture is good at is emphasizing the characters’ emotions and establishing a link between them and their surroundings. The setting of the scene can affect the way we perceive the personality of a character; it can be used to capture a character’s inner struggle by isolating them or to suggests a character’s freedom by introducing them in a large open space
Architecture can add so much meaning to the art of anime if it’s used the right way. Just by playing with the settings and choosing the right angles, interesting things can be achieved through the simple use of a design of a building in the backgrounds, “It is only a matter of who’s the Architect” (Mathew Li, RCanime).