It's funny how our goals tend to change as we grow as artists. When I was back in art school, I was obsessed with doing "cinematic animation", that is to say, American movie quality animation done on 1's. I traced all my holds so that the animation was constantly "moving", I almost never used layers, and I did all my walk cycles on 1's. I learned how to flip my paper and would be constantly adding drawings to get the smoothest look possible. As a result, I was never able to fully complete any of my student films, but managed to pass because of the number of frames used was so high.
Some time after I graduated, I realized that I had a body of unfinished work and that my method was not functional for the fast paced world of freelance. If you're lucky enough to find a client willing to pay you thousands of dollars and wait a year for 2 minutes of animation, then sure that method was okay, but this is an industry built on speed. Quantity versus quality more often than not. And the jobs paid low, too low to justify the effort of drawing thousands of frames for 30 seconds of animation.
So then I went through an experimental period (actually, I think I'm still in this period) where I would try to figure out how to do more limited animation while also maintaining a standard of quality. I looked at a lot of overseas animation, Korean and Japanese animation specifically. I looked at cheap cartoons from the 70's and 80's and tried to reverse engineer their production pipeline; I tried to figure out what they were prioritizing and what they were'nt in order to be able to deliver such a large body of work in such a short amount of time. One major factor I learned, is that more often than not, they were animating on 3's and 4's
It sounds simple enough: lower frame rate and less drawings. Asside from the drawings and artstyle what was the difference between having your motion look like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle as opposed to something like Lupin the 3rd:
Both shows had a really low cel count, and probably had around the same budget. Now I know that Bullwinkle is a cartoonier show that Lupin, but even taking that into account, there's just something about the way the characters move in Lupin that I personally find more appealing than in Bullwinkle and I have a theory as to why:
For one, the Bullwinkle clip has too many key poses and as a result it screws up the timing. There are almost no holds and a lot of unnecessary movement and the staging is very straight forward. They are trying to apply the American "Disney" standard of full animation to a limited production. They are trying to do a watered down version of disney animation instead of altering the process to fit within their limitations.
In the Lupin clip they take advantage of the limited cel count by having the characters quickly snap into a pose and then hold it. Realizing they can't spare the frames to do proper slow in and slow out, they compensate by adding more holds when certain parts are supposed to be slower like the part where Jigen is running from the helicoptor. The timing works so you don't even notice the pauses in the animation where as Rocky's motion looks really awkward when he says, "We're going to have a lot of fun! Come on and join us!". They also save a lot of animation by using holds in combination with dynamic staging, like when Jigen shoots the helicoptor. He holds that pose for a long time.
So you might be thinking that I'm picking on Rocky and Bullwinkle because it's not anime, and that's really not the case. Just look at this Danger Mouse clip. Look how strong the staging is, how snappy the timing is, and how they aren't afraid to hold on a good looking pose. They are doing everything they did right in the Lupin clip and applying it to cartoony animation:
But I do tend to favor japanese animation because they have figured out over time that by paying close and special attention to the timing, posing, and staging, you can fool people into thinking your limited animation is higher quality than it actually is; case in point:
That my friends, is what I am currently trying to master...