Anime is a visual medium and as such it must work just as well visually as it does narratively. While it’s easy to separate the two, good visuals should go hand in hand with the story to enhance other aspects of a scene.
The main and arguably most important component of an anime’s visuals is animation. It is the core of anime and cartoons alike. It’s what separates it from other mediums.
The more animation you need the more animators you will need to do them. The more animators you have the more money you need to pay them. Therefore if you can’t afford to pay animators you will have to cut back on animation.
That seems simple enough but it’s not entirely accurate, however it’s the way most people think about animation budgets.
The best and most common example of a well-spent budget is in the Kyoto Animation studio. They are well known for their outstanding animation with shows such as Violet Evergarden and K-On while still having the same budget as other studios.
They achieve this by following the quality over quantity rule. They have less animators doing better work which lets them produce these high quality animated shows.
Most of the work at Kyoto Animation is done in-house. That means they rarely take on freelancers to work on projects. This is what gives them that consistent KyoAni feel to them.
They have a generally good working environment for their employees to feel comfortable and less stressed. Their staff is encouraged to be creative and achieve their full potential.
This allows them to produce a few high quality anime each year rather than pumping out tons of low quality anime and hoping that they catch on.
That being said we can’t blame bad animation on the animators alone. Usually other staff members come up with the ideas and animators bring those ideas to life.
While the process can vary greatly it usually goes something like this: the director gets together with the storyboard artist (or the director is the storyboard artist) to create the storyboard which lays out what will happen in an episode. This is where the story is edited and parts are cut out, added or switched around. The animators then take the storyboards to use as reference when animating.
From there the key animators will work on the main frames where the scene or characters pose or position changes noticeably. Then the inbetweeners add in the frames between key frames.
So if the storyboard is bad or unclear, the animation will follow.
Basically, bad animation happens when someone along the production line is incompetent or lazy.
You can see this when there are long periods of time in an episode completely lacking in movement or the overuse of panning shots as a substitute for movement.
Lack of movement isn’t a definite indicator of bad animation, as it can sometimes have its purpose.
The animation/directing style of Hiroyuki Imaishi is often accused of being lazy due to him sometimes limiting the use of frames for comedic effect in anime such as Kill la Kill.
So does this mean you can look at any anime and just excuse it’s bad animation by calling it stylisation? Well yes, actually. If you legitimately believe that there was a reason for that scene to be animated like that then I can’t blame you (but that won’t stop me from arguing about it for hours on end).
Going back to what I said about bad animation being due to someone being incompetent or lazy; that isn’t entirely true.
The hard truth is that putting in the time and effort to make higher quality animation just isn’t feasible.
Studios often don’t produce anime for the type of viewer who would put much thought into the animation of a show. They just bet on what’s popular in order to guarantee views.
However, studios like Science Saru and Trigger prove that there is a market for high quality anime even if it isn’t produced as frequently as others.
So the quality of animation in an anime really just comes down to the intents of the people behind it and the interpretation of the people watching it; nothing is inherently bad.
P.S. If you’re interested in the animation process you should check out these guys who go in depth on each step with knowledge from someone who actually works in the industry: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGBS0meEbzjIwFssjPzDtBQ