Acchi Kocchi, Ben-Day Dots, and the American Comic Style

“Everything starts from a dot.”

-Wassily Kandinsky

It’s amusing how many things are produced, or art styles invented, simply in the interest of saving money.

Benjamin Henry Day Jr. is a mere blip on history’s radar, and yet the printing process he pioneered now has a storied tradition well beyond a cost-cutting measure to save ink. The son of New York Sun founder Benjamin Henry Day, Day Jr. developed the “Ben-Day dot” technique of printing. Ben-Day dots, named after Day Jr. himself, are dots of the exact same size made up of different colors of ink. Instead of spending more money to print the color purple, for example, one can print magenta and cyan dots overlapping each other and our minds will gladly fill in the rest for us.

Ben-Day dots as a definitive style, as opposed to something that simply existed in printing, exploded onto the art scene thanks to 1950s-1960s American comics and American artist Roy Lichtenstein. Using comic strips as his subject, which by this point nearly all used the Ben-Day inking style, he magnified it, drawing attention to each and every dot. If Ben-Day had not been synonymous with American comics prior to Lichtenstein, his paintings cemented the marriage between the two while also allowing Ben-Day dots to be viewed as their own art style. No longer used simply for coloring, they could be used in more stylistic choices and in other mediums.

Atmospheric perspective in the classroom.

Acchi Kocchi has already drawn attention from others for its use of arrows and overall visual style. It’s also interesting to note that the series uses Ben-Day dots to either draw the viewer’s attention or force it to one place. In the screenshot above, the Ben-Day technique is used to create aerial/atmospheric perspective; simply put, the things that are further away from the viewer are also lighter in tone, denoted by the white dots that inhabit the more distant students.

Dots and patterns are also used here to denote that these characters are on television and even more removed than the students in the classroom.

In addition to physical distance, the series has also used Ben-Day dots to reiterate figurative distance from the viewing audience. In the scene below, we see random students doing mundane things. They’re present, but to us as an audience, they’re not particularly important. The dots tell us to regard them more as a background pattern than actual people.

Grunty grunts doing grunty things.

From cost-cutting inking method to a deliberate animation style in a Japanese cartoon. As Kandinsky said, everything starts from a dot.

As an aside, Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu was the first series that I know of to use Ben-Day dots as an overall style. I’d be curious to see if their usage was similar to Acchi Kocchi, or directing the audience in a different manner.

EDIT: How could I forget Hidamari Sketch?

21 Comments

Filed under Acchi Kocchi, Editorials

21 responses to “Acchi Kocchi, Ben-Day Dots, and the American Comic Style

  1. omo

    Isn’t this just a creative way to translate manga screen tones selectively?

    • Hnn…possibly.

      Manga screentones I associate more with halftones born from photography where the dots are arranged more to indicate light/shadow and vary in size and/or shape.

      Taking a cursory glance through the Acchi Kocchi manga, I see the general use of screentone, but not the overt use of Ben-Day dots that the anime uses.

      • omo

        Screentone is in a way similar to halftones in photography. But of course these days it’s a lot more than just that.

        The reason I ask is because the screen shots you’ve taken all look as if someone took a white tone and laid it over the artwork. Which is not exactly the same aesthetics in actual application as Ben-Day dots, which seems to be kind of the opposite, as a way to apply color and texture rather than as a way to increase or decrease brightness (ie., tones).

        • Then, does this mean that instead of giving non-relevant characters a white, translucent overlay color, they used dots instead as a way of cost-cutting?

          • omo

            To be honest I don’t think adding white dots actually cut costs. I think it it’s just a choice in the art direction to give the anime more a manga look.

        • The reason why I chose to single out the Ben-Day dots (specifically the aerial perspective) and as a corollary, the screenshots that I chose, is because I felt that they *were* serving a different purpose than screentone or halftone (Acchi Kocchi uses both of these as well, in different applications).

          Aerial/atmospheric perspective is a bit different than simple light/shadow (which is what I primarily associate screentone with. This has to do with screentone/halftone’s respective roots in both hand-drawn crosshatching, often from woodblock printing, and photography).

          For the former, imagine looking across a field. Distant objects (mountains, trees, etc.) appear further away due to the scattering of light, while things closer are more saturated with color. I liked that Acchi Kocchi specifically chose to use Ben-Day dots (of equal size and distance) to show aerial perspective because in my mind, I associate Ben-Day dots with color choice rather than light/shadow. In this case, the color choice is making things appear more washed out, due to white Ben-Day dots, to show perspective. I thought that this was neat, and more, as you say, an application of color, as opposed to halftone/screentone’s use of dots to denote light/shadow.

          • omo

            I think that is also what is commonly done with manga screen tones. It’s probably serving the same effect.

  2. I think playing with dots has started way earlier http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/georges-seurat-bathers-at-asnieres just not in animation. Good article :)

    • Actually, many people compare the style of Ben-Day dots to Pointillism (which Georges Seurat is credited for pioneering). Good call out. ^ ^

      As for a timeline, the Pointillism movement began in 1886 and extended into the late 1800s. Ben-Day dots were developed around the same time, but weren’t all the rage in art until the 1950s-1960s.

  3. omo

    One more note on Ben-Day dots–Pani Poni Dash. Look that stuff up~

    • Yeah, Pani Poni Dash was the first show to come to mind, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I wasn’t sure if I had used them. I any case, great show with very fun visuals and worth checking out.

      • I skimmed through an episode quickly and yeah, they definitely use Ben-Day dots. I’ve never seen Pani Poni Dash but I’ve heard good things. One of these days I’ll have to check it out.

  4. Very nice article, ajthefourth! I was also trying to write something about the usage of dots on my post but went with the arrow idea instead.

    It’s fascinating how dots can emphasize character relevance in accordance to story or plot. By simply putting translucent white dots, you can instantly make people recognize a person as a side character. But as you said, there are also other uses of patterns.

    Your idea about the television pattern also made me think about analog, dot-matrix type technology, which also uses dots, colors and tones in order to paint a larger picture. Simply amazing.

    • Thank you!

      I liked what both you and Akira had to say in regards to the arrows. It’s a very interesting series visually (especially when things get very kinetic, like the snowball fight in Episode Three, or the kick the can game in Episode Four).

      There are a myriad of other Ben-Day dots and halftone/screentone uses in Acchi Kocchi but I didn’t want to make this article too long. ^ ^

      What I always find amazing is how our mind naturally will fill in the blanks. Thanks for the comment.

  5. woah. I never noticed it. The dots yes, but i didn’t really count them as a style. But after reading and taking a second look, you’re absolutely right. :))

  6. Oooh interesting post! Yeah I noticed the use of dots after watching a few episodes of Acchi Kocchi! This is another series that I like just based on the character designs because they caught my attention really fast, but I do enjoy colorful backgrounds and all the arrows.

    • Thank you!

      One thing this series is really great for is just sitting back and letting the visuals and energy kind of wash over you. I think it would be more of a standout in a weaker season. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Heron

    Watching this show I couldn’t help but be reminded of Animal Crossing of all things. I think it must be the music and the general laid-back feel of the dialogue. Then, I started mentally rehashing other slice-of-life shows to decide if I felt they were alike in tone to AC as well. Anyone else have a similar reaction? In my experience, the influence of games seems to be frequently over-looked in critical analysis so I’m sort of curious how other people see it.

    • Hnnn…

      I haven’t played Animal Crossing, so it’s a bit hard for me to comment. As for games that are *like* Animal Crossing in tone, I have played several Harvest Moon games and Rune Factory 3.

      More to your point, the reason that Animal Crossing seems like Acchi Kocchi (and remember that this is solely based on a description of the game, since I have not played it and cannot speak to any aesthetics) could be due to the fact that Animal Crossing is a slice-of-life game. The gameplay (again, from description) seems very open. The game is solely your character’s life. Perhaps similar music/colors/dialogue transcend the mediums of anime and videogames, but stick with the genre of “slice-of-life?” Then again, that’s just a guess.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. Pingback: Smile PreCure! Episode 41: The Miracle of Peace | Cure Blogger

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