A Beginner’s Guide To Anime

I know this really isn’t my typical posting material but I thought this was interesting and useful stuff.  Hey, I’m a person who used extracurricular projects in grade school as an excuse to submit documents full of the history of anime.

I’ll keep this as more of a “what you need to know” than a true and working history of anime.

 

So, What IS Anime?

Well, we’re already in a bit of trouble.  “Anime” in Japan is basically an informal term for “animation” in the same way “sports fan” is short for “sports fanatic”.  So technically, if we use Japanese definitions, anime is just animation.

But I’m guessing you aren’t looking for that type of description, are you?  Well, to much of the world, anime refers to Japanese animation.  This differentiates itself from other types of animation such as those produced in Canada, USA, and Europe (often designated “Western Animation”) or China, South Korea, or the rest of Eastern Asia (“Eastern Animation”).  By definition, this basically limits anime to Japanese products.

The anime industry is quite large and operates on the order of billions of dollars (USD) per year.  It does a great deal of business within Japan but is something of a niche industry internationally.  As an example, some viewers from around the world called ex-Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō an otaku (more on this later).  Yet the popularity of anime doesn’t permeate as well.  Most common knowledge of anime alludes to either well-known younger audience series such as Pokemon or…well, hentai.  These two traits pronounce themselves within the common state of many cultures and is probably the only widespread exposure of anime to the world.  Further to the point, the world recognizes these aspects to such a degree that popular culture can reference such traits.

 

Why Does Anime Get Its Own Name?

Anime distinguishes itself from other animation groups, and therefore commonly requires distinction from other animation, because of a commonly noted difference in animation style; anime is quite often easy to separate from other animation because of a difference in artistic choice.  Again, these are extremely pronounced and leads to easy recognition in popular culture.

Previously, on Dragonball C

 

The most recognizable attribute of anime traditionally lies in facial features; large eyes, great attention to hair style, and decreased focus on other aspects typically herald anime.  It would come to no surprise that writers of a basic general tabletop RPG rule set called it Big Eyes, Small Mouth as that description fits much of the facial experience in a nutshell.  A major exception to both of these rules is Hiyao Miyazaki’s work, which emphasize more natural designs in both aspects.

Also, yes, this is probably a better character than the one she's based on.

Incidentally, this is not a real character…but was the first example I found. It follows typical convention.

Additionally, exaggerated expression typically associates itself with anime design.  To be honest, this is where you find most parody and recognition of anime tropes in non-anime environment.  Typical facial emotion reflects the emotion of the individual to an extreme degree; faces are blue and eyes blank when shocked or cheeks flush to a bright red when embarrassed.  TVtropes has an entire section’s worth of tropes about Japanese visual effects.  This anime aspect is absolutely iconic.  It’s probably also very easy to tell from the below images, but anime has a long streak of using non-traditional hair colours as it sees fit; it is common to use blue, green, pink, or purple hair.  Additionally, extremely unusual hair style is typical in series which focus less on realism; the character in the sequence, for example, has twin tails the size of her head.

I’ll go with…happy?

That’s certainly happy.

But character design alone isn’t where anime varies from other animation groups; anime focuses greatly on the detail of backgrounds.  When compared to other medium, anime typically reflects a high quality foreground and background.  I’d even argue that high quality frames is a hallmark of anime and it’s one of the rare mediums where compiling an all-star animation team together will reflect in an all-star animation product coming out extremely visually impressive.  I’ll stop it at that though as I think further description would only invite debate and hurt feelings by one person or another.

 

What Makes Anime So Popular?

This is a good question, isn’t it?  Above are reasons what makes anime different from other animated shows, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to what makes anime popular.

A major part of my reasoning is that anime taps into unexploited markets.  That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just say this: it has audiences which don’t have a show otherwise.  If we focus on the Western markets for a second, a list of all animated television created by Western markets consist primarily of episodic television shows aimed at younger audiences (ex - Spongebob Squarepants) and episodic comedies that focus on older audiences (ex – The Simpsons).  Saturday morning cartoons and sitcoms, effectively.  Anime, by comparison, offers media for different audiences…so much so that there are entire loan words for the different target audiences (more on that later!).

Let’s just use the above anime as examples.  They both aim at older audiences than the typical “Saturday morning cartoon” and offers a non-comedic animated experience not found in the sitcoms; one aims for teenage viewers and the other at a mature audience.   They also contain aspects unlikely in other genres: one has an incredibly difficult to define genre (and is probably one of the top examples of a non-genre specific franchise out there) while the other is a psychological murder mystery.  Or multiple murder mystery.

Now, I can’t fully generalize; neither of my statements regarding Western animation or for anime fully describe the situation.  However, this is a terrific starting point for observing what makes anime unique at the moment.

So, I think the simple answer to read here is “because anime provides an experience they can’t find elsewhere: different combinations of demographics and genres that they cannot find in other animated media”.

 

Okay…where else can you find this?

 

What Are Anime’s Demographics and Genres?

I figure this is the obvious followup.  I’ll provide some basic descriptions below, though they hardly do any of them justice.

Common Anime Demographics

Each of the commonly used anime demographic names are directly ripped from the Japanese equivalent.  Remember that these are generalized demographics and anime tend to blur the line of which demographic they aim for.

  • Kokodomomuke.  Approximately stands for “intended for children”.  This typically is a little younger than the above mentioned “Saturday morning cartoons”.  A commonly known example, though probably still not entirely accurate, is the Hello Kitty franchise.
  • Shonen.  Target demographic is approximately preteen to teenage boys.  Anime with this demographic in mind likely cover the majority of your anime memory as it typically encompasses the often translated anime…Pokemon, Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece…most of those anime typically fall in this range.  But that’s the lower end of the spectrum.  One of the above anime also aims for the shonen demographic.  Incidentally, the shonen demographic is also the largest demographic in the anime market.  Shonen anime typically consist of more idealistic anime, have a mix of comedy and action, and focus on topics such as internal drive and ability…though these are a generalization and hardly the rule.
  • Shojo.  Target demographic is approximately preteen to teenage girls.  Anime aiming for the shojo demographic vary a bit from the shonen and typically focus a little more on the emotional aspect and a little less on the action.  That isn’t to say that there isn’t a mix of both (bear with me for a sentence or two as I get to addressing that) but that there’s a stronger pull on the emotional side than the action.  TVtropes provides an anecdotal example: if you have two main characters who are obviously mutual love interests, a shonen demographic anime more likely ends the series with the two characters falling in love while a shojo anime may make the relationship build earlier and focus on the relationship changes and struggles.  The most common example of a shojo oriented anime is Sailor Moon, though like the examples above it deals with a younger aspect in this audience.
  • Seinen.  Target demographic is, you guessed it, adult men.  Anime for this demographic begins to branch out far and wide, no longer tying itself to the typical action and idealistic roots…though, and I sound like a broken record, it might not tie itself to those roots to begin with.  Two common directions for seinen demographic anime include a dark and edgy version of shonen demographic anime or to turn for cute escapist characters.  The idea of a less black and white morality often begins the blur between a shonen and seinen demographic anime.  The ever common “gateway anime” Attack on Titan, for example, states a shonen demographic despite being brutal.  But the direction of escapism appears much easier and presents itself in a distinctive manner.  Seinen demographic anime also aims at areas the shonen demographic didn’t ever go in terms of experimental concepts.  Anime such as Ergo Proxy, Elfen Lied, Ghost in the Shell, and this blog’s namesake Serial Experiments Lain on the darker and experimental sides while CLANNAD, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica fill the other (the last of the three going on both sides of the spectrum)
  • Josei.  Target demographic, again easy to guess, is adult women.  Like all the above, the definition is somewhat vague.  They tend towards the same path of shonen to seinen demographics and open the doors on morality and idealism.  Recent trends include focus on daily life, homoerotic themes, and a darker look at romantic aspects which shojo anime typically either ignore or gloss over quickly.  A well known josei demographic series is Loveless, as is Eden of the East to my surprise.

Common Anime Unique Genres

Below is a list of genres that tend to stay inside anime more than others.  You’ll likely find examples outside anime but they are likely less numerous.

  • Harem.  A harem anime typically focuses on a main character and a wide swathe of viable love interests.  This most typically uses a set up of a male protagonist surrounded by an incredibly large number of female characters as love interests.  It’s so commonly accepted in this role that many call a female protagonist with a large number of male love interests a “Reverse Harem” anime.  It is rarely played as a dramatic situation, though there are exceptions.  A harem anime typically uses the protagonist’s situation as comedic bait.  Because the audience typically has the same gender as the protagonist, the supporting love interests often provide fanservice (see below).
  • Magical Girl.  Magical girl anime, as the name suggests, features magical girls as main protagonists…young girls which use magic.  That’s it.  This wide open concept actually makes it open for practically any combination of demographics listed above.  The varying amounts of action against relationship against everyday life focus easily cover all the above demographics.  In fact, while many consider magical girl anime a realm only for female audiences, the most famous recent examples of magical girl anime target male audiences.  The most popular genre of magical girl anime utilize a formal similar to superheroes and have villains which the protagonist magical girl fights.
  • Mecha.  Mecha anime simply utilize mecha.  That’s a roundabout description…so let’s describe mecha.  Mecha are robots, in essence.  Mecha often divide into two categories: super robot anime and real robot anime.  The former focuses on the robot as an extension of the robot’s controller (pilot).  By comparison, real robot anime typically have mecha which are much more expendable and reproducible.  In essence, they are weapons.  This vague overview of mecha anime allows for it to slot in combination with almost any other type of genre and target any demographic…though it lends itself very well to action heavy anime.
  • Slice of Life.  Okay.  Fine.  This really isn’t anime unique but it has a strong sway in anime and a great deal of slice of life content comes from anime.  Slice of Life anime are anime which focus on…well…life.  Following along the life of a protagonist.  School settings are quite popular for this type of anime as are coming-of-age narratives.  This type typically pushes away from action-heavy sequences and focuses on interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts.  An extreme interpretation of slice of life can create entire situations without conflict at all and simply focus on the lives of the characters instead of a grand narrative.
  • Yaoi.  A subset of romance anime which focus on romance between male characters.  The typical audience for yaoi work is a female demographic with there being further distinction for male/male romance anime for male audiences.  It’s kind of hard to describe yaoi as a genre (at least in the Western definition; Japan uses the term much differently), so I might just leave at this: there is a great variety of yaoi content from stereotypical romance that you’re probably thinking about to extremely dark and disturbing material.  This would deserve its own post to describe…so just take away the basic idea of what the term means and not the implications and subtleties of the genre itself, something that’d take far too long to explain in a post introducing anime.
  • Yuri.  A subset of romance anime which focus on, you guessed it, two female characters.  Like yaoi anime, there is a tendency of female demographics more than male demographic though there are are more pronounced male demographics in certain yuri anime.  Again, please note that the twists, turns, and history of this term is far too complicated for an introductory article…so focus on it as female romance.  Wikipedia contains articles which go into far greater detail on yaoi and yuri anime.

Note that both yaoi and yuri sometimes refer to sexually explicit content when used in Western settings.

 

So…how many is that?

 

Common Anime Terms

I’ll just start by saying that there is no way this list is anywhere near “complete”, but includes terms likely required for conversation about anime.  Not all will become common language for different readers…I’d be pretty concerned about certain combinations appearing together.  You’ll also note that a lot of these are Japanese.  Please note that some of the terms either are not used in such a sense and that the definitions provided regards how this fandom uses the terminology.

  • AMV.  Abbreviation for Animated (sometimes Anime) Music Video, a (mostly) fan production which combines mixing songs and visuals from at least one anime.  The song does not necessarily need to (and often times does not) come from any of the anime footage used.
  • Baka. “Idiot”.  Kind of.  It has different definitions, but the one you’ll probably hear it in regards to anime is for “idiot” or “stupid”.  It comes as part of anime’s character design as irritable characters often repeat the term.  Also note: some fans insert this word into their everyday lexicon because of the easy substitution for non-Japanese words.
  • Bishojo (Bishoujo).  “Pretty girl”.  There’s not much else to the term itself.  Anime warps around it though and traditions regarding this style of character are evident.  Namely, this character typically defines more as “being cute” than outright sex appeal and is younger looking, typically cutting off around 20 years old.
  • Bishonen.  “Pretty boy”.  Now this gets a little more confusing than the above definition for bishojo as the term “pretty”, if you want to stick to English terms, doesn’t really vary between the two definitions.  A bishonen character is actually quite effeminate and, like the definition above, refers to younger caracters.  Well, maybe.  The term is ambiguous since some groups define it simply as “an attractive male character”.
  • Chibi.  Literally?  It means “small” and refers to smaller and cuter characters.  That said, it’s misused enough that you should know this definition: Chibi and the art type of super-deformed often intertwine.  Super-deformed is a specific anime art style which extremely large heads compared to the rest of the body.  In anime where the super-deformed is not the normal animation, this choice typically adds a layer of comedy and lack of seriousness to the situation.
  • Dandere.  A character which is particularly shy and not really social but changes to warm and friendly under specific circumstances.
  • Dojikko.  A cute female character who is particularly clumsy.
  • Dojinshi.  Independently published or self-published works.  In the realm of anime, this typically refers to manga.  Note that since this refers to any independent publication, professional producers can add to the mix.  Works may use original characters or act as fan fiction.
  • Dub.  Short for “dubbed voices”.  The translation for the work in question comes in the form of replacing the original voices with new voice actors to speak in the audience’s native language.  There are strong rivalries and debates between the value of a dub vs sub (below).
  • Ecchi.  Approximation of the English “H”, used to represent a halfway point between standard production and hentai (below).  In other words, the product has sexually suggestive material. That’s a vague definition and encompasses anything from fairly benign material such as sexually based humour all the way up to nearly hentai.  This weird and vague definition makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish between ecchi and full-out hentai.
  • Fanservice (Fan service).  The simple definition is T&A.  The more complex one utilizes the idea of sexual humour and/or titillation.  But that still isn’t fair.  The idea of fanservice is easy enough (“servicing the fan” and giving them what they want) but it’s another nebulous concept as some consider climactic and visually gorgeous fights fanservice.  The most typical usage refers to sexual fan service though…that is, having characters in sexually amusing or titillating outfits (in fact, I’ll even use “fanservice” to mean “sexual fanservice”).  A well-known example of this is younger female characters in maid uniforms.  Alternatively, fanservice comes in the form of active choices to have a “shot” linger on attractive body parts for far longer than necessary or gratuitously show sexually attractive images (such as panties on a female character).
  • Hentai.  Approximate translation definition: perverted.  Common definition: anime, manga, and video games (with anime design) which have pornographic content.  Funny enough, the word itself is actually quite non-sexually based and you could find situations in which to use it.  From what I’ve heard too, many Japanese individuals find it quite amusing that non-Japanese speakers use the word in such a way.
  • Hikikomori.  An individual who actively chooses to isolate themselves from society.  Such individuals may exhibit extreme antisocial behaviours such as rarely leave their living quarters.  The concept is closely tied to otaku lifestyle but I wish you recognize them as two different entities.  There is currently research investigating this phenomenon in Japan as it appears primarily as a Japanese issue (though countries all over the world report cases).  Hermits might be a possible equivalent…though not really.
  • Kuudere.  A character which initially appears cold, dismissive, and cynical but has a hidden warmer and friendlier personality when approached sufficiently.  I might get into this some day but the concept of the second part of this in dandere, kuudere, tsundere, and yandere characters may exist as a development over time as oppose to being “hidden”.
  • Manga.  Simply, Japanese comics.  That’s probably the easiest way to think about it.
  • Megane.  A term for male characters who wear glasses.  This would suggest usage because there is a glasses fetish market out there.
  • Meganeko (Meganekko).  A term for female characters who wear glasses.  Again, this relates fairly closely to glasses fetishism.
  • Moe.  Oh boy.  Well, I’ve written an extensive amount on the subject and even that definition of moe might not agree to the common usage.  Let’s just say it’s that “big brother/sister” instinct drawn from an innocent, sweet, or naive young character, typically female.  It’s a strange and nebulous definition, I agree, but it’s tough to really draw a straight and narrow definition.
  • Otaku.  Literally, “you”.  That’s the actual term.  Of course, the usage shifted to something along the lines of “obsessive nerd” a while ago.  The implication of defining as “otaku” is having an obsession with a given interest, defaulting to manga or anime without further description.  The origin of the term certainly doesn’t provide much help in this regard.  I would also suggest that the term, even if it has a fairly benign origin, can carry heavily negative connotations (such as “gamer” might on Western news stations in stereotyping towards angry 12-year-olds or a fan of murder simulators)…please be careful when using it.
  • OVA.  Acronym for Original Video Animation.  Similar to “straight to DVD/video”, this refers to animation released directly without a TV or movie theatre release.
  • Sub.  Short for “subtitled”.  The original voices remain and translation the translation comes via subtitles.  Much like I mentioned above, there remains strong debate between fans of dubs and subs.
  • Tsundere.  A character which initially appears hostile, irritable, and angry but has a more approachable and friendly personality underneath.
  • Yandere.  A character which initially appears warm and friendly but has a more destructive side underneath.  This description varies a little from the other [x]dere definitions since the character reflects the friendly aspect first.  Note that the last part is intentionally ambiguous.  A common example of the destructive personality is a violently controlling personality.  If that character is a love interest, the situation may be that the individual puts so much into the relationship that they feel they must keep that relationship in their ideal bubble and will do anything, up to and including murder (for instance), to ensure that it happens.

 

…We done yet?

 

Recommended “Gateway” Anime

What follows is a brief listing of anime which present an effective introduction to anime.  You could easily treat me like a drug dealer here as I attempt to push anime into your life.

As a general pick, I find Attack on Titan as the a commonly noted modern anime.  It’s got an unusual art style for anime, is somewhat bleak, and contains some lovingly animated scenes.  I’ve yet to fully watch this anime myself to please take my recommendation of it with consideration.  The Slayers franchise is an older anime that hearkens a bit more of what you might remember as “anime”.  It features around the concepts of a typical fantasy genre but plays with comedy a great deal; the anime reaches around for different aspects of both a serious action franchise and a wacky slapstick comedy.  It’s got a little for everyone through the episodes produced in the 1990s (Slayers, Slayers Next, Slayers Try) and might only concern you if you weren’t a fan of the animation at the time.

It’s possible that you’re looking for some good old high fantasy but Slayers isn’t your type of anime.  A little more towards the female side is Magic Knight Rayearth.  It pulls a fairly serious narrative and doesn’t differentiate between comedy and action episodes nearly as much…instead using it as a drip at certain points in episodes.  Want one with a little more seriousness?  I’m not sure I’d qualify it as a great anime but try out the cliche-filled Record of Lodoss War, an anime founded on Dungeons and Dragons principles (though I guess Slayers is what happens in such a world when the players screw around with the genre’s seriousness).

Or maybe something with just lots of fights and high-octane action is what you want.  Berserk‘s high violence should sate you.  Some low fantasy violence always helps.  Or maybe Black Lagoon, where trigger happy…well…probably isn’t even enough to describe it.

The slice-of-life genre becomes quite interesting in anime.  I’d almost imminently state Haibane Renmei.  It not only provides the off kilter idea of a slice-of-life anime in an entirely unfamiliar setting but provides an incredible adventure with the characters themselves as you discover more about the world thrust upon you.  Welcome to the H.N.K.! provides a much more comedic look at the genre.  I’ll warn that it’s dark in its comedy.  Wanna break your heart instead?  Try the Clannad franchise.  Especially the finale.

Feeling a little more sci-fi?  Well, I always find mecha recommendations fun.  The Gundam franchise practically covers the entire spectrum of dramatic mecha anime.  Here, take a fan made sorter to find a Gundam anime which suits your needs.  I haven’t watched it, but others throw Code Geass‘ name into this range as well.  Need something that makes you feel like someone kicked your emotions around and threw them way?  Fine.  Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, a dark and fairly confusing narrative.  Again though, it’s stupid dark.  Planning for something for laughs and a space opera?  Martian Successor Nadesico.  I will warn though that its comedy typically plays around expected tropes so you might miss some jokes or fun moments.  From the “not really my type of anime but worth considering” list is Tengen Toppa Gurren Laggan.  Take escalation to all new heights.

Of course, mecha do not comprise all sci-fi.  Ghost in the Shell is the iconic cyberpunk anime.  Of course, if you want one with about three pounds of introspection and much less action, have fun with Ergo Proxy.  Want to make it more impossible to understand but uniquely presented?  Well, Serial Experiments Lain works well.  Or, it confuses you the first time you watch since that’s kind of what I just implied.

It could be that you want an adventure.  Not characters, but a journey.  Well, try the apt named Kino’s Journey.  It’s about a teenager named Kino and Kino’s motorcycle as the pair travel.  Or maybe Trigun…a space western at its finest.  Speaking of space and adventures, Irresponsible Captain Tylor qualifies as a terrific addition if you’re already looking for a non-serious space opera or just love space operas at all.

Or did you want magical girls?  Well, the genre rarely plays straight these days.  A more combat oriented magical girl anime exists: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.  Make friends by beating the snot out of them in combat more reminiscent of mecha franchises than magical girls.  An extremely dark look at magical girls also exists: Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  Just be warned, twice now, that it is very dark.

Enough seriousness though.  Do you just want to laugh at comedy?  Something of a complete and raw sketch comedy anime, probably closest to the zero continuity of Western animated sitcoms?  Well, I’d say Galaxy Angel comes close.  Want even less sense (if that were even possible)?  Try the high-energy Excel Saga, an anime where continuity itself is a character.  I’m not sure it’s for everyone but the anime never takes itself seriously for a second and doesn’t even attempt to retain any sense of holding to its source material or to the laws of the universe itself.  And, while I’ve never found it my cup of tea, Gintama counts as famous comedy.

Or maybe you just want to, instead of having any of the above, just watch the “moe” characters do cute things?  K-On! famously defined this area…actually, come to think about it, that’s actually probably all you need to look at here.

Maybe you just want to defy genres period?  Go with Cowboy Bebop.  Just do it.  The Haruhi Suzumiya franchise also blends so many genres together…you’ll just get lost trying to keep track.

 

Hideaki Anno And The Commercial Future

A recent comment by Hideaki Anno popped up in the news.  Now, this has also caused a slight amount of discussion.  I’ve copied it below if you don’t want to open a new link:

The Japanese animation industry has hit a dead end — it will be tough to escape unless we can make animation without commercial considerations. It may even be too late.

I haven’t seen a direct link to his comments so I’ll address the quote above.  I’m not sure whether or not a later interview addresses the exact same topics (as I note the difference between him stating it’s a dead-end in the quote above and how he refers to anime as breaking towards a recession in the second interview).

So, What Does It Mean?

As I read the quote, a major issue is the broad strokes that Anno speaks in.  I’m not sure if it’s as broad in the original quote as I haven’t seen it but I think it’s key to note how general Anno speaks.  It’s very, and I mean extremely, easy to get lost within the specifics of that sentence.  Pinning down the source of the frustration or the specific notion he speaks to is difficult and tenuous at best.  Anno, as I think most of us know, is a man with a great number of concerns and the one he highlights in his words is a steep task.  Deciphering meaning from such words is subjective at best I think.

My first question is what a “dead-end” represents.  Is it the end of the line?  A withdrawal from a peak?  A recession?  Or is it even about money and size of industry?  That’s a fairly blanket statement and the interpretation, while not a significant aspect to the quote, helps frame the rest of the statement.

The major aspect I’d focus on is whether the concern Anno raises is one of industry size or of commercial creativity.  I feel these are the two major possibilities when describing loss in terms of “dead ends”.  I would also feel though that the former is automatically removed because of the fact that Anno is encouraging anime without commercial consideration.  So, the first aspect is that he’s speaking of a creative dead-end.  Easy enough.

But that leads to an even larger question: what does the dead-end represent?  Is it a catastrophic failure or one of minor loss?  Of course, it’s fair to even question the relevance of such a question, but I’ve added it for completeness’ sake.

The interpretation I see is one of fear.  I think it’s fair to think of Anno as an artist first and foremost.  He’s a man who seemingly lashes out against fans, hates parts of the culture they attach to, and even take shots at some of them in his own productions.  Though he has made his peace with the otaku culture in recent years, he never really appears a fan of it or enjoys it himself…just that he doesn’t bitterly hate it.  The tone of his words combine with this ambivalence to create a real cynical look on Anno still…that he’s still only halfway attached to the field.

Attaching the analysis of his first few words and I think the statement is a very strong and pronounced concern with anime; Anno sees them heading for a cliff and is pressing for immediate action.  The statement at the end, that “it may even be too late”, reinforces that notion.

Personally, this comments here strikes reminiscent of many artistic individuals who look to develop and create new mediums.  The type of individual which never stays around after there is no new artistic merit left (well, in their opinion anyways.  I have different opinions regarding artistic form and originality that I may put in writing one day).  And I think this is consistent with Anno.  This is a man who does not work on a great number of projects and seemingly deliberately pushes everything he has a hand in different directions.  Or at least a more postmodern one.  Heck, I struggle to think of an anime he’s involved in which doesn’t use some bizarre surreal imagery at some point.

Moving on though.  This leads to the second, and probably more difficult to read, question: what are the “commercial considerations” to forgo?  What exactly is he warning about that threatens to suck the anime industry dry of the artistic merit?

And I think this is where knowing Anno’s background comes to assist the understanding.  He and Miyazaki, as I’ve noted previously, are seeming brothers-in-arms in regards to moe character design and their avid hate of it.  It’s unlikely, in my mind, that the statement and the seemingly significant presence of moe characters in modern and current anime remain unconnected.

Of course, this is only one possibility.  As I noted before, there is a further interview where he states that anime’s own success created an industry which is unsustainable economically.  This would stifle show quality and damage the further interest in anime until, in sports terms, it undergoes a full rebuild where it drops into obscurity, re-positions itself into a respectable medium once again, and comes back with a vengeance.

I’d personally be inclined to believe this second interpretation of the two I theorized.  It’s not secret that anime is struggling in the economics.  Salary is pretty much nothing and hours are insane so many of the claims Anno points at check out in a general sense.  The economics just don’t make sense for the animators.  You’re basically in a world where you’re doing your work because you like to do it for far too many hours for far too little money.  You can only expand so far until overworked individuals say enough and you lose talent at a painful rate.

(Side note: It’s actually kind of funny that one of the titles in an articles that I linked to in that Miyazaki article is “The freefall of Japan’s anime industry” given how I reference it in an a post about Anno’s concern with an industry ready to freefall)

And if we read more from this second interview, then Anno’s primarily concerned with non-standard anime production dropping.  I’ll quote a specific aspect that I think highlights his sentiments perfectly:

The lack of staff and finances has gotten to the point that people recognize they won’t be able to keep working as they are now. It’s not the kind of leisurely atmosphere that Japan needs to make animation. We can’t make animation at this scale without economic stability. When you’re working as hard as you can just to feed yourself, you can’t get joy out of your work. You’re more focused on your next meal. That’s the real problem.

[…]

I get the impression that the contemporary Japanese animation industry is running solely on the remaining fuel of the past’s enthusiasm towards animation. We need to be more flexible with our ideas, and think about how we can continue to make work that’s compelling. That’s what my project with Kawakami-san is all about. (source)

I feel a summary of Anno’s argument is: Anime is currently at a state where pursuit of maximum profits in conjunction with the current working conditions of anime employees will strain the network of employees beyond the breaking point of quality.  Anime’s production value will drop and result in uninteresting creations which will drive away fans.  This will create a dead end in anime and force a drop in the anime industry.

Such a statement follows each of the interpretations of Anno’s comments above and is consistent with his later comments.

But…Is It True?

This, of course, leads to the million dollar question which is lovingly listed above anyways.  Is anime heading down a spiral?  There are two moving parts to this question: the industry’s sustainability and the anime quality.

We first must look at sustainability.  There are two ways to observe this.  One is the company profits and the other is industry talent.  Company profits are likely consistent.  I’m not privy to much company information but I do not see many doors closing.  Sustainability at a corporate level, at least from what I’ve seen, is viable.  But what about for each employee?  I think this gets a bit more sketchy.  Anime industry, as I’ve always mentioned, is one of love.  I don’t think losing individuals is the issue.

The question boils down to the quality of anime as more projects come into production.  A helpful user once tracked anime by year.

Following a similar process, here are the data points I added for TV series for 2012 to 2014:

- 2012: 160 TV series
– 2013: 185 TV series
– 2014: 198 TV series

So there’s absolutely no question that we’re hitting unprecedented levels of new anime in production annually.  But the statistic we’re concerned about is employees per project.  And this is a point where I’m stuck.  I can’t find the number of anime employees by year.  And I think this is a major issue.  Since the start of that graph, the anime industry has undoubtedly grown and therefore there will be more employees to work with.  It’s not like there is a drop from 100 employees per project in 1996 to 25 in 2012.

But let’s say for the sake of hypothetical debate that it is true and that industry does not hire employees to keep the number of employees per project constant.  Is this impacting quality?

Well, I think this is a subjective question.  I certainly haven’t seen the unusual and interesting anime from before but I’m hardly a good source and I don’t think my familiarity with all modern anime is strong enough to make a real statement about changes today.

But what are your thoughts?  Are we heading towards an abyss and inevitable decline?  Or is this just the concerns of a man who might not have anything to concern himself with?

Anime and the World, Part 3: Animated Television

Anime has influenced the greater world of entertainment by its existence. I have previously noted this effect in the areas of live-action film and animated film.  This previous analysis, of course, ignores the most obvious (and in my opinion, the most important) influence: that of animated television.

I broke this post into sections based on the media’s origin area.  This lets us analyze a little further the origins of such development.

Note – A lot of my commentary comes from observation.  As such, I may state incorrect comments…it’s just what I’ve seen from different media.  Discussion is always interesting and I encourage responses if you disagree.

 

South Korea

I’m guessing not too many of you would put South Korea as a major influenced animation.  As an exporter, you would be right.  South Korean originated media is far less common than other major players.  But the influence of the world at large on it isn’t negligible.  South Korea is a well-known animation exporter and as a result imports animation convention from elsewhere.  It’s likely you’ve seen the fruits of their labour too as South Korea animates a great deal of anime and western animation of extremely variant quality.  From the infamous Lost Universe train wreck of animation which infamously accumulated into the Yashigani Hofuru episode (an episode so badly animated that the Korean animated version is no longer considered canon) to parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender to holding contracts with such largely known franchises as The Simpsons, it’s likely you’ve seen South Korean animation before.  Well, the business of animating other group’s works.  South Korean animation, to no surprise, takes from this wide swath of projects.  South Korean animation typically utilizes equal amounts of anime convention and Western animation convention.

This is much easier to observe with examples.  First up is a new-ish series, Hello Jadoo.  I honestly haven’t seen much of this franchise but I’m sure the anime and Western animation influence leaks through screenshots.

I…don’t know what’s going on here.

These frames make the anime influence quite obvious in this franchise.  The super deformed and chibi style proportions, massive visual expression in the face, and very distinct foreground/backgrounds are all very systematic and integrated aspects of anime.  But it isn’t all anime: anime heavily relies on sharp contrasting angles.  You can see that in the first image.  Yet the second image falls more as Western animation.  And, much more to the compare to an anime, the show features simplified hair whereas anime gets a massive and well-known reputation for extravagance in that facial aspect.  Of course, this doesn’t suggest that anime purely lives and dies off complex and intricate hair, but that this is one of anime’s calling cards.

On the opposite end, we have Aachi and Ssipak, a totally not safe for kids animation.

I…uh…what the hell?

Screw it. My sanity just dropped.

These frames, especially the latter, call from Western animation greatly.  Again, simplified hair is a terrific indicator here.  The formation of the character’s mouth and nose as much more visible than in anime, well-known for understating both of these points (heck, the general rules anime style tabletop game named itself Big Eyes, Small Mouth) greatly reflect the Western animation side.  Yet signs such as the first frame also reflect the anime angle (with an image style used to the point of parody).  The mixture creates an interesting result and South Korean original animation works as a hybrid of both systems.

 

“Western Animation” Europe

The title is clunky, yes.  I can’t speak for all Europe’s animation though as I haven’t seen a great side of it.  I’m familiar with the side exported to North America and, as such, will speak to that.

The integration of animated media in Europe deals primarily with borrowing much of the style outright.  I’m not sure I can explain this phenomenon at any level as it always seemed strange to me.  At any rate, the influences are both visual and trope based.  One could consider this almost outright “borrowing” the entire medium of anime as oppose to really merging it with other aspects.  That said, it is never a 100% conversion and differences in style remain.  But, as I contrast later, the amount of anime dutifully brought into their animation, when called, is much greater.

French cartoon Wakfu first came to mind as I typed the above.

I’m pretty sure that orange haired guy’s a ghost. His absolute lack of pupils tells me so.

Not sure if Slayers food joke or bloodlust…

The show highlights that anime styled right right away.  Complex and unusual hairstyles litter those images.  And yet this not the only place where Wakfu keeps those roots obvious.  Character traits frequently note its origin.  The character I jokingly describe as a ghost above, named Sadlygrove, rolls many shonen audience anime together…he’s a book dumb, overconfident, fighter who charges in headfirst.  I’m not sure how many different young male anime protagonists that describes.  Then the character on the far left of the first image, Eva, is an extremely competent fighter who acts as the group’s sanity metre and holds a fairly traditional tsundere personality towards her love interest.  This, again, measures very well against common anime trope convention.

Of even more fame, and of personal connection to my own anime history, are the cartoons created by Marathon Media, another French company.  While Totally Spies their most famous production, I’ll focus on one I’m much more familiar with as I’m Canadian and the show had enough Canadian effort to meet CRTC requirements (also, it’s just a better example in some areas): Martin Mystery.

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers.  This is a Super Saiyan, right?

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers. This is a Super Saiyan, right?

So...um...yeah.

So…um…yeah.

Again, the anime influence should come through clearly.  Marathon‘s original signature style included a visual style very similar to common anime.  The characters reflect a high level of detail to hair, a common eye style (see the first image), and a tendency to turn to super deformed characters at the show’s sillier moments at rates not seen since Rayearth.  The second image has nothing on the rest of the show.  And much like Wakfu above, Martin Mystery utilizes fairly common anime convention for its target audience (younger males): slightly book-dumb hero and an irritable tsundere female lead.  Oh, not to mention a pure love of overplayed emotions such as gushing eyes.

But Martin Mystery also effectively highlights a deviation from the anime style.  It’s small and somewhat subtle but effectively reflects the small deviation these anime-styled cartoons contain.  The first image shows us an outline of a character’s face.  The chin’s style, one which points forward and with a high degree of sharp contrasting angles, is a visual style similar to more Western cartoons.  This actually lightens and becomes less notable in later seasons which indicates a shift towards a more anime specific art style.

To get a strong sense of this level of faithful following of anime convention, I’ll contrast it to American animation.

 

USA

There is a great deal of contrast that animation from Europe exported as “Western animation”.  As I mention earlier, the approach is very different; USA approaches anime with an homage” mentality in mind in contrast to European “borrowing”.  The common aspects including satirizing the convention (such as gratuitous poor lip syncing) and integrating only certain conventions in.  An old example (and I’m sure you can tell by now that I love old examples) comes from Megas XLR.  You know, I feel kind of old as I can name this show very easily.

All the missiles is the best attack ever.

 

I find Megas XLR is the epitome of American animation in regards to anime as it represents the typical treatment of anime in these shows: the show utilizes elements of the style but not it in its entirety.  For example, the premise of Megas XLR is very much aligned with anime.  The basic concept is that the protagonists are defending Earth from alien invaders by use of giant robots.  Mecha in the animated medium is, by and large, still an anime narrative.  I made the description above so general that it actually could describe Evangelion.  Or Fafner.  Or most apocalyptic mecha anime.

But Megas XLR doesn’t take anything else.  It takes a primarily Western setting, namely New Jersey.  Also very evident is its more Western animation-styled art which gets even more evident when considering character designs (well, except for the female protagonist).  It also takes many character personalities with Western blends.  The male protagonist is Coop, a fat slob with no training.  And as far as I can remember, none of the above improve.  His sidekick, if you’d like to call it that, is another unemployed man with no real consistent positive traits.  These are characters fairly distinct from the traditional leading teams compared to anime.  Characters with such traits typically develop out of them, even in comparing a comedic lead.  The standard “lovable loser” that animated shows love tying themselves to shares change between anime and Western animation; the anime protagonist typically develops.  This provides most of the thrust in harem protagonists (and I mean most as there are exceptions) and provides the development of Shinji Ikari, probably the most famous “can’t catch a break” anime protagonist I can imagine.  Now, this difference’s existence could stem from cultural differences as Welcome to the HNK and Watamote provide examples possibly closer to the traditional Western animation, but then I’d consider that Western animation flavours itself in the routine comedy…the repeated episodes day after day.  Either option is quite possible and distinguishes itself from anime, a medium with more fluidity and possibly less episodic nature.

Which, of course, leads us to the possibility of more serious Western animation.  Does such a topic exist greatly?  It’s more difficult to find answers but this standard hybridization seems to exist.  I pulled from Xiaolin Showdown, a program oriented with a slightly-serious-but-slightly-children oriented show.

A similar situation appears where the show only pulls from aspects of anime.  As the second picture attests to, it also calls on the overreaction and visual comedy in anime.  This actually exists as the show’s standout in the regard (from what I recall – it’s been years since I’ve viewed the show).  Yet it also calls on more Western character development.  The characters fall into Western cycles, such as a man who typically doesn’t get upset unless you disturb his clothing, and an arrogant and haughty master of martial arts (and Asian to boot!).

Are their higher target audience examples?  The 10-20 audience typically encompass the focus audiences of the above two shows.  Well, less so.   Unfortunately, Western animation carries stigma of “child things”.  It’s rare and difficult to admit fandom of Western animation as an older individual.  It’s rare to break that stigma and the companies play up on it by rarely, if ever, testing mature Western animations.  It’s difficult to find comparable animation projects to some anime as a result.

Of course, all these rules are by no means hard and fast.  It’s very easy to come up with exceptions.  Franchises such as Avatar (well, the television series) and Teen Titans would contrast against the trends listed above, both being extremely similar in trope usage and animation style to more traditional anime.  Communities tend to acknowledge Avatar: The Last Airbender in this regard though and groups sometimes lump that fandom in with anime fandom.

 

Japan

And as the final topic, I want to bring the topic full circle and discuss how anime’s opening to the world influences anime.  Change in the medium is impossible to deny and it’s unfair to think of anime as only influencing and not influenced by such exchange.  Like many examples above, considering case studies are easier as, obviously, there are still no solid rules or total shifts…just examples.

The most famous I know of its Cowboy Bebop‘s premise, which borrows the Western genre very heavily.  This almost borrows completely from the USA styled semi-borrowing of style; Cowboy Bebop is carefully and meticulously anime in art form but borrows many narrative tropes from anime.  True…it hold enough different genres that one of them must have Western origins, but the narrative of an “old West” space narrative distinctly draws the “old West” part from American culture.

Probably of even more Western animation style though is The Big O.

Remind me to order lots of androids when they come out.

This anime is very unique as it borrows heavily from the Batman franchise. I’m sure it’s plainly obvious in the image above but the male protagonist, Roger Smith, parallels Bruce Wayne in many regards.  Lots of toys, an insanely exquisite car, and a no guns policy.  Yup, that’s pretty much Batman.  The show as a whole is an incredible blend of the two styles, mixing the traditional concepts of anime (such as the female character above, R. Dorothy Wayneright, holding many traits similar to the ever-popular Rei Ayanami) but also giving a heavy Western animation and cultural injection.  Animation certainly borrows from both animation styles, giving Dorothy a distinctly anime image with a lack of focus on mouth or nose to contrast with Roger Smith’s hybrid appearance (borrowing heavily from the studio’s last project of Batman: The Animated Series).  Then there are the aforementioned Batman lines and the film noir influences with many of the artistic choices coming straight from this genre.

And ultimately, this is where I hope anime goes.  These hybrids, these mixtures of cultures, are some of my favourite media ever.  This reaching between styles gives wildly unique results and, while obviously not all of them well succeed, the uniqueness makes interesting results.  Experimentation, such as The Big O above, creates inventive media.

But I digress, this post intends to describe the different ways anime influences the world’s artistic choice in animated television.  The four focuses included animation from South Korea, select Europe (again, only the ones I’ve seen myself), North America, and Japan itself.  The  international exchanges create a straight up direct mixture in South Korea, gets some wholesale borrowing in some European animation, and creates a blend in both North American and Japanese animation.

As this writing project wraps up, I must admit that I never really expected to complete it.  There are so many different rabbits to chase in the discussion that I intentionally limited my writing and length to prevent posts of insane length.  This one is by far the longest (reaching around 2500 words).  I know I haven’t touched on a great deal of subjects here and maybe a further, more detailed discussion comes up in the future.  Until then though, I hope this sparks a little discussion on the influence (and future of) anime.

Self-Identity and the Nature of Fandom

Alright, I know I am in the middle of a series, but I really need to list discuss this as I’ve tried to write about this topic several times but trash it before completion.

It’s about how we, as fans, react to attacks against our beloved media.

Let me first start by discussing the notion of partisan politics (well, Wikipedia calls it “polarization”).  It’s a fairly complex discussion point but this is an anime blog not a political one…so I’ll try to boil it down for you.

Partisan politics is often defined as sticking to your party’s (or your ideological leaning’s) principles.  It is often looked at as an irrationality, a “with us or against us” mentality which puts it into terms of “with my opinion or against it”.  There is great scrutiny about what process dictates partisanship but it creates a clashes between different groups based on these leanings.  People identify themselves by their party and internalize the values of the party.  This makes any attack against that party a personal attack and creates a much more personal level to the situation.

The above paragraph is somewhat technical so let me supplement it with an example.  Let’s say I live in a country with only two political allegiance: Alpha and Omega.  I normally determine which party I vote for by checking my own values and deciding, based on that and what the parties stand for, that I am most in-line with being either Alpha or an Omega.  But my rationale as a partisan voter is different.  My partisan reasoning would be that I am an Alpha therefore I would agree with Alpha values.  Instead of defining my political stance according to my own beliefs, my beliefs adjust to the political party.

This is a major issue in regards to debating issues.  Filtering out information that is not advantageous to supporting the predetermined position is a major facet of this partisanship.  Of course, this is more than a little debatable but I’ll try keeping this simple and not spend the entire post explaining various factors I believe are at play.  We can certainly debate the meaningfulness of the effects at another point.  Anyways, as this partisanship and polarization becomes a major factor, a filter for information begins to form.  Put simply, the information beneficial to the person’s side reinforces their opinion and they remember it easier while they throw out contradictory information to their stance.  There’s a quote that I’d like to use for this.

Here’s how politics works. There are always two sides. Let’s call them the “reds” and the “blues.”

If you’re a red, the goal is to make the blues look as bad as possible. If you’re a blue, the goal is to make the reds look as bad as possible. If they do something good, you ignore it. If they do something bad, you let as many people know as possible.

Have they raised money for a mental health charity? Don’t report that! Did they kickstart a project to help young women get ahead in game development? Definitely don’t report that! Did one of them send someone a death threat? Stop the presses, we need to get the story out now!

It’s pretty much as simple as that when it comes to bias.  It simply boils down to cherry picking what’s retained.  And this obviously builds a major issue.  All information is information.  Data is data.  Facts are facts.  Losing sight of facts makes it difficult to make well-grounded arguments.  Extreme cases of this bias creates the loud and angry sides yelling at each other on TV.  Two sides that refuse to acknowledge the other side’s valued points. This is when things get scary as the opinion that the individuals generate is not founded in thought anymore.

Now everything I’ve talked about includes only politics until now.  But it’s very easy to extend the argument to other subjects…and that’s where I get scared.  It’s easy to shift the topics from political parties and hot-topic issues to that of fandoms.  Consider movies, video games, anime, or other entertainment areas for example.  To mirror my words above, I may normally determine where I stand on anime related issues by checking my own values and deciding, based on that where I stand on the topic.  However, if I’m partisan in this topic, my would be that I am an anime fan/not an anime fan and therefore I would take the stance of this nebulous group.  It’s a bit of a stretch but I believe that the issues that laden partisan topics rear their heads in entertainment topics…and, of course, it’s this topic I’ll focus on from here on out.

The biggest reason I think these issues could come up is because, at its heart, part of partisanship is the emotional attack.  That an attack on the stance is an attack against the person.  This is just as easy to manage in entertainment mediums as in politics.  Key political divisions include those which ask about morality: abortion, right to die peacefully, and topics of that ilk.  These topics get people emotionally involved and many consider them “wedge issues”, issue which end up dividing groups.  Connecting this back to entertainment, these topics already strike close to home: it’s an entertainment medium and the fans actively pursue it.  An attack against the medium easily translates as an attack on the person because of this close emotional tie.  Blinded vision takes the statement as stated above and sometimes removes the possibility of seeing the validity of the other opinion, a problem as the commentary may have good commentary in it.

An excellent example of that comes from the recent treatment of a CNN report about anime.  It deals with a recently passed law which does not extend towards the anime and manga industry.  Below is their video commentary.  As I still attempt to follow my site’s PG-13 general trend, I’ll make the same announcement news stations give: some may find the content offensive.

The article is poorly done.  There’s no two ways around it.  It’s sensationalist.  Many people will point out that the “explicit” material they censor is nothing more than a slightly violent cover.  A much calmer story about the loophole of anime and manga would suffice.  Maybe it’s just me, but this is what I expect out of traditional news sources these days…pure view bait.  Country doesn’t matter…views generate money and controversy generates views.

But this is where things take a weird turn for me.  Fans watch this article and spin it in directions that make no sense.  I’ll link one below.  If you’re The Anime Fan or one of his viewers, please note that I have the utmost respect for him.   I feel somewhat jealous that he’s comfortable voicing his opinions in a video as I kind of hate my own voice.  I get that this video is a rant and I understand the frustration.  I use his because another user linked the video to me in conjunction with the topic of the CNN post and I have a response from that topic on hand from that topic.

And I’ll take an excerpt from the topic I mentioned above.  I directly address a couple of points in this video and they seem to differ from the rant’s commentary.

[The Anime Man’s] claims don’t match the points in the article and he’s obviously ranting without fully determining how he should pick apart CNN’s article. And it is reactions like this that sometimes scare me. His points aren’t purely founded in fact – he makes connections which clearly don’t make sense if you watch the video. For example, [he] describes it as if the journalist claims there is something wrong with the Love Hina scene (a traditional hot tub scene – I don’t like fanservice and it’s not my cup of tea, but I have no problem with its existence). The reporter says nothing of the kind. He says, and I’m quoting here, “But these are not children and they’re not being r***d. There’s a big difference”. A simple cursory listen will catch that he doesn’t accuse Love Hina of anything like the material he has problems with. This is a sinfully painful inaccurate accusation for [The Anime Man] to make.

Of course, I’m not one to purely pick on one man here.  Everybody makes mistakes and I admit I have a large pile of error posts which I try to own up to when they show up.  Except the concern is the seemingly frequency of such errors.  A petition, actually, multiple petitions go into the method of painting CNN’s argument with a fairly broad stroke (I will say though that the final of the three petitions is fairly well-reasoned in the sense that they don’t focus on the “sexually explicit argument”.  It is arguable though since they never claimed the cover was really bad and even verbally comment “there’s blood there”.  Why CNN censored the cover is up to interpretation  It could be sensationalist or possibly just allowing it to air without issuing a “disturbing content” warning).

And it’s this side of interpretation differences that concern me.  To so degree, I think CNN has an actual story hidden behind the layers of sensationalism and silliness: that anime and manga were no covered as part of the latest law and that there are explicit imagines in some anime and manga.  Does it go much past that?  No.  But I think that argument actually exists.  I’m not sure I agree with it but I think there’s still the argument.  And my fear is sometimes that emotional investment and the anger associated with a personal attack on the hobby causes individuals to ignore that point and to simple build straw men that make it easier to attack the other position.
Let me state that, through all of this, I’m an anime fan.  I can’t think of any other way to describe a person who spends time dreaming about how anime influences the world, who blogs until the early morning about the nuances of anime, and spends an inordinate amount of time putting anime-esc characters in medium that may or may not be anime-esc to begin with.  Anime is part of my identity and it’s hard for me to imagine a world where I’m stripped of my favourite characters, shows, and music…all of which originate from anime or visual novels.  But I also want to keep open dialogue.  Ensuring that the correct statements transfer and that they are properly interpreted is key to understanding debate.  Using the CNN example again, I’m not sure that their point makes sense.  In fact, there are plenty of individuals out there who read it and got the correct statement and rejected it for different reasons.  But what I do want to see is that people interpret the commentary correctly before deciding on it.  A response that occurs because of the close emotional ties without consideration of argument and reasoning itself rarely helps.

Anime and the World, Part 2: Animated Films

So, my last post looked at how anime has influenced live-action movies.  This post, following that idea, extends to anime its forces on animated films.  More specifically, how anime directs the direction of animated movies.

One of the major, and probably most obvious, shifts is in the animation style.  I’ll use a simple example: the Disney princesses.  To the unfamiliar, it is simply a collection of the Disney female protagonists.  A chronological ordering of them is below:

Now, let’s consider a couple elements of anime art.  First and most obvious is eye size and style.  Anime is well known for its amazingly large eyes compared to the rest of the face.  While the best known examples worldwide tend to break this habit (coughMiyazakicough), this is probably one of the most iconic aspects of the anime art form.  Consider, for example, the general RPG rulebook Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  It is a game designed to emulate anime and allow tabletop game players a route to role play the anime atmosphere.  The fact that this game book even uses the definition of “big eyes” should be an indicator about how important famous this aspect of anime art is.

Random side note – It actually is kind of fun and recursive when there are rumours that the design of anime characters was influenced by the disproportionate eye size of cartoon character Betty Boop.  But that’s a story for another day.

But why bring this up?  Well, look at the “princesses” above.  We can see a distinct shift in many of the characters drawn since 1989.  You can see a major proportion change of the eyes.  Considering the increased focus attention anime had since that time, it seems a possibility that this style in anime shifted to Western animated films like this Disney franchise.  Of course, this is a jump of logic in that correlation equates to causation. and it is entirely possible that this is just pure and random coincidence.  However, it does seem less likely when the shape of the eyes are also considered.  Another distinct aspect of anime eyes is a reflection of light, often highlighted as a white dot.

I literally picked the first result from searching “anime character”

What interest this brings is the correlation this causes with the animated characters above.  You can see that this is distinctly visible reflection of a similar variety after the long jump in years.  In fact, if you search the original frames of the human characters in Disney’s older animated films, you will find their pupils are fully shaded as oppose to having a slight reflection ala anime characters (again, images were grabbed with really quick Google searches).

I think this subtle shift reflects a major adjustment in the animation style, one that comes from the anime industry likely.  There are countless examples of older anime from between this gap of time which show this distinction.  I’ll just add an example below using Lupin III’s pilot from 1969.  The best looks is probably around 6:44 or 6:45.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2aaLMme644

Of course, this again doesn’t prove absorption of animation style.  I would suggest, however, that this is a fairly strong case and would warrant further consideration as a vector of communication between anime and English associated animated films.

Conversely, one strongly proven aspect of influence is in outsourced or co-produced works.  This connection would seem obvious at first blush but it is worth mentioning since there are a large number of works which reflect this; there are some examples of animated films released in North America hiring Japanese animation studies for their work.  No where is this more apparent in my mind than the animated rendition of The Hobbit.  I’ve attached a short clip below.  Though the title goes without saying (and seriously, did you NOT expect this to happen?), there are minor spoilers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kejj4_bRj-s

Smaug is probably the most anime styled dragon I’ve seen in a while.

Now, what makes this truly interesting and a strong link to me is the studio which worked on this film.  Much of the animation team later worked together in Studio Ghibli later.  There was a strong working relationship between these animators and Rankin/Bass Productions.  The animation of The Last Unicorn was done by the same group.

Another great example of this is the Transformers franchise, which had its iconic first season animated by Toei.  Actually, a lot of Toei’s work can be place here period…most are television shows and would be subject to another post.

Of course, the influences aren’t purely limited to the visual.  It’s important to recognize that, much like the film side, tropes are often carried over for historical reasons.  I won’t rehash that discussion, and as such this post will feel short…but I don’t think it’s worth repeating (that and I’m dead tired right now).

Yeah…this post is short.  I know that.  I think a major aspect which limits the connection between the film side with anime is the focus of most anime on the episodic form.  There are some influences on the movie industry but they are somewhat limited because the singular focus is on Miyazaki’s preferences…him being the singular popular figurehead of anime film.

The next topic, and probably the longest, will focus on how anime has influenced other animated television.

Anime and the World, Part 1: Live-Action Hollywood

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real long series.  These are always fun and interesting things for me to write about.

Anime is a genre which exists on a global stage.  I sometimes call it niche but it ultimately plays with connections to the world.  It influences the world and the world influences it.  But how is it these groups interact?  What does anime send out to the world?  What does it influence?  And how is it influenced by the world?  My focus in this series is looking at these questions for connections between the “world at large” and anime.

First up is Hollywood.  Well, the live-action side of it.  The fabled story of anime’s interaction with animated Hollywood is much longer than I care to type up in a single post like this.  It’s one of the largest groups in terms of economic size.  I mean, it influences most movies you can find in theatres (this goes double in North America).  The concept of anime influencing Hollywood is an amazing thought as it’s almost a self-desired validation for fans: I am a fan of something touching a big place like Hollywood.  Of course, the reaction is much more hostile.  You can find page after page after page of sites claiming that Hollywood is taking pages out of anime’s books.  Now, and this is a story for another future post, I won’t claim that this is my stance; I believe that as we edge towards the future the concept of original works is going to diminish and creating truly original art without copying something else is going to become more and more impossible.

What I will say is that the two are not entirely separated.

The first connection is the very obvious Hollywood anime movie.  I’ll groan with you.  Ugh.

This, as shallow as it is, is one of the most well-known connections between anime and Hollywood.  The premise itself is simple in that it’s live adaptation of the anime.  It’s a simple extension of options for making money.  The premise is tried and true: the anime is popular.  Of course!  Well, as you probably know as well as I do, these movies are pretty much universally terrible.  Hollywood does not do an effective job of translation.  The best example I can give you is the abortion of a movie, Dragonball Evolution.

I’ll give you 5 bucks to bury this movie and all its copies in a fiery lake.

It’s based on the fabled Dragonball franchise, as the name suggests.  This is a lot of source material to work with.  I mean, Dragonball Z is a gateway anime.  A very popular gateway anime for of us who grew up in the mid-90’s at that.  It’s hard to imagine that such a movie would be a disaster, right?  Well, as I’ve hinted to above, it really did end up poorly.  I won’t bore you with the details.  Just let CinemaSins sum it up for you.

So, yeah.  And it’s not like Hollywood’s repertoire past that is much better.  See: Speed Racer, which at best is mediocre.  Or Crying Freeman.  Or Guyver.  Or even movie-based-on-cult-classic-Korean-film-based-on-manga Oldboys.  This is pretty much up there with video game movies right now.

Why is this though?  I personally suspect the problem is two-fold.  First is the issue of budgeting.  Most of these movies don’t have huge budgets.  The biggest of the above worked off of was Speed Racer (120 million), which had a larger budget than all the other movies I mentioned (approximated as about 70 million).  Low budgets likely come from lack of confidence.  I think there’s the same problem here as with most (not all) video game franchise movies: the translation isn’t a sure thing.  The anime may have a huge following, sure, but there’s no proven model for making anime movies a huge success.  We should remember that the funding teams likely know nothing about what they’re funding other than its previous success rate in the field.  And this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon given the anime live-adaptations out there.  Though, fingers crossed.

Thankfully, anime interacts with Hollywood in other ways.

The second, and much larger field, is influencing directing style.  This field is also much softer and probably more fuzzy in my definition.  Let’s start with an easy one to make this make sense: Pacific Rim.

Every time I look up an image from this movie, all I hear is the theme.

Pacific Rim is probably the best example to look at because its director, Guillermo del Toro, openly admits his influences and points it out as a love letter to the anime he watched as a kid.  From art design to back story to plot, everything done in Pacific Rim has the anime mentality going for it.  Let’s start with art since I love talking about giant robots.  The protagonists use a mecha named Gipsy Danger.  Its weapons are a walking super robot reference facility.  On its chest is a turbine which happens to shoot out massive blasts of energy.  Also, it has rocket powered fists.  It pretty much is a remade Mazinger Z in this weapon layout.  Other mechs contain designs obviously influenced (and then del Toro admitted) by mobile suits, including the Guncannon (Coyote Tango) and Zaku (Cherno Alpha.  Though this one I wasn’t aware of until del Toro came clean).  Heck, this spills into the posters which look just like the anime mecha model kits you buy.

Let’s not forget the narrative either.  The story very much follows the post-apocalyptic narrative that populated anime frequently in the ’80s and ’90s.  To further this thinking, you have a hot-blooded hero who is thrown into the ring with a rookie who does well in practice but is never given a shot.  Both are fairly stock anime characters.  The former embodies almost every stock super robot protagonists while the latter also happens to show many links to the common anime archetype of the Yamato Nadeshiko.

It is so bad that there are anime fans out there claiming that it’s an Evangelion rip off.  That, of course, ignoring the fact that del Toro never heard of Evangelion until he wrapped up Pacific Rim.

But this isn’t even the biggest influence.  No…the biggest is in the invoked tropes.  Every aspect of Pacific Rim is written so it is predictable.  Every little “twist”, from who pilots Gipsy Danger to the durability of the final enemy to the character development in the film are all expected events.  Many run down films for this very point but between marketing and footage it’s clear that this movie’s narrative isn’t serious.  The phrase “you know [x] is going to happen” occurs multiple times in regards to the narrative and that is appears perfectly intentional as the tropes it runs are very close to the ones found in mecha anime, both real and super.  I certainly won’t bore you with the details here as I’m tired and this post is getting much longer than I really can describe for this limited connection, but you can certainly see a description in this article by the Artiface.  And in Pacific Rim, this is entirely intentional.  It’s easy to run down as simple and extremely cliche driven if you’re an anime fan but I feel this is what del Toro intended.  Every cliche is so drawn out that there is no element of surprise.  The movie, as much as it may seem silly to compare, is very comparable to the Transformers franchise as they heavily rely on fans knowing what will happen so that they can purely enjoy the concept of giant fighting robots.  Simple as that.

Pacific Rim is such an easy example to work with because of its obviousness.  Many films draw from the genre but do it in much subtler manners.  TRON: Legacy is a subtler example and focuses on anime character types.  Quorra, for example, is a bookish girl who happens to be absolutely comfortable kicking people around and taking numbers.  I honestly can’t tell you how many times that shows up in anime but let’s just leave it as “lots”.  The graphics are commonly compared to that of Speed Racer.  Take of that what you will but the sequences certainly have a bit of that feel.

So with that example, I’d suggest that the influence of anime on Hollywood greatly comes from this pattern of homages and tributes.  Movies will sometimes copy great scenes from anime and will reflect a great love.  Rarely does this come as heavy and frequent as Pacific Rim but they certainly exist.  I digress though and major issues in terms of transferring stylistic choice from an animated medium to a live one is very difficult.  That’s about as much as I can link the two.  These two fields are fairly difficult to connect since you’re crossing an animation barrier and certain tricks work in each field that flop in the other.  Most live-action adaptations fail fairly hard.  Homages exist and this is probably the biggest influence you’ll see in movies in regard to anime.

So, what next?  That next topic is the neighbour of the live-action Hollywood film…the animated film.

Review: Boogiepop Phantom

Please, if you see this individual, just don’t run. You’ll only make yourself tired.

Background

The Boogiepop franchise is an interesting oddity: it is a fairly large and expansive set of light novels in Japan but never really crossed the ocean or anywhere else.  The novels have sold over 2 million copies in Japan in 2000.  That’s quite a large number given the time.  In a much larger market (and I mean much larger), everything Haruhi has sold a “mere” 8 million.  I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider the cultural impact Haruhi has, you get a sense of how important Boogiepop is to the light novel landscape.  In fact, it’s sometimes argued that the light novel trend originated from Boogiepop.

What followed was a foray of this franchise into the anime landscape.  MADHOUSE, pretty much a household producer name (Chobits, Death Note, Monster, Paranoia Agent, Trigun…they’ve got a long list of greatest hits), took it upon themselves to bring the franchise’s unique narrative style (more on this later) to the television screen.  And Boogiepop Phantom is the result.  The studio went to Takashi Watanabe for direction.  He showed success in the Slayers franchise and would later tag his name to many other projects (He became part of the Shakugan no Shana franchise as the director and Death Note as a storyboard writer).  For sound they asked the prolific Yota Tsuruoka to step in.  He also has a massive resume today.  Top billing probably goes to the Clannad franchise but you come real close to saying he’s done pretty much every anime you know.

Story

Okay.  Let’s start off with this: you won’t fully understand much of the main story in Boogiepop Phantom without reading two light novels first: Boogiepop and Others and Boogiepop at Dawn.  The anime connects the two events and concludes the events of the former.  Instead of a traditional description of the back story, I’ll explain what happened before to a level where one can understand the events.

Nagi Kirima, a schoolgirl, grew at an abnormally fast rate and was dying as a result.  The hospital admitted her and tried to take care of her and her condition.  Shinpei Kuroda, an agent for the Towa Organization, befriended her.  He went behind the organization’s back and administered a drug to Kirima to prevent her from growing at abnormal pace.  The organization executed him soon after.

Dr. Kisugi, a resident general doctor, found remains of the Towa Organization’s drug.  She tested it on rats and found it created incredible powers in the subjects.  So she did the natural thing and tried it on herself.  Naturally, things go sideways and she becomes a composite human.  Composite humans are kind of nuts most of the time and she becomes a mass murderer, killing strong-willed girls because she was addicted to their fear.  Kirima, investigating the murders, found her and with the aid of Boogiepop, the whispered “angel of death”, killed the insane doctor.

A monster named Manticore, escaped one month ago.  It is a failed clone of a highly evolved alien, Echoes.  Echoes, sent by its race to elvaulate humans, monitored earth and could only repeat what was said to it as a way of limiting its power.  The Towa Organization captured it and tried to clone it…unsuccessfully.  That created Manticore.  Anyways, Manticore killed a normal schoolgirl named Minako Yurihara and assumed her identity.  During this time, another school student named Masami Saotome discovered this switch and, instead of killing Saotome, struck a deal with him: the two would addict students to an addictive drug named Type S which would enslave the user to the distributor of the drug.  Then Manticore would eat the individuals for substanance once the experiment concluded. Echoes the Towa Organization to find the Manticore and met Kirima, who at this point is very much aloof and on the outside of traditional society.  Saotome and Manticore, realizing they are being investigated and chased, set a trap for them.  Echoes is critically injured in the fight and, in a final attempt to get rid of the fiend, turns itself into a pillar of light.  The pillar destroys Manticore with the assistance of Boogiepop and Saotome, having fallen in love with Manticore, kills himself by jumping into the pillar.

The events of Boogiepop Phantom deal with the events arising from the pillar of light.  One month after the fight, the entire city is covered in a strong electromagnetic field and a large aurora.

This is really as far as I can describe the narrative without giving anything away.  But I can describe the narrative style.  The light novels take a vignette approach to the narrative and show you a very short story focusing on one character.  Then it’ll shift its focus in the next section.  And then another character.  And so on and so on.  Boogiepop Phantom continues this tradition; every episode follows a specific character and follows their adventure through the supernatural events that overtake this unnamed city.  Each character has their own troubles and some react more positively than others to the situation.  The grand sum of all these side stories is a greater narrative that is not directly created and a climax that is not directly built until it reveals itself to us all.

And I love every second of it.  This form of storytelling may feel a little meandering and disoriented at times but they effectively tell a narrative in a unique manner.  But why do this?  It makes the narrative even more interesting through the mystery.  This occurs in multiple regards.  First and foremost is the anime’s main narrative.  We are treated to a shot of the pillar of light mentioned above.  It knocks out all the electronics in the entire city for a second before everything restarts as if nothing happened.  That seeds the question “how is this important?”.  And this question slowly rises and creates further questions as the narrative progresses.  This pull is a major driving force of the narrative.

Second in mystery is the interrelation of each narrative.  Virtually every story connects to another.  For example, there is a creepy guy in episode 1 who seems mostly perverted.  The next episode focuses on him and what is happening to him.  There is very little waste in this regard with only a couple of episodes focused on events that will not drive questions or imply certain answers.  This seemingly tangential narrative begins pushing the viewer in certain directions and will feed the first mystery I listed above.

Also, eating bugs. That’s relevant.

Finally, each character presents their own mystery.  Each character you see is, at the core, a fairly blank slate.  A few will be recurring from the light novels but largely this is an original cast.  And after a few episodes you’ll know they all largely have deep-seeded mental issues in addition to their odd behaviour.  Part of the mystery and attraction then becomes why this character acts this way in addition to what happens to them.   In that regard, the psychology becomes a major aspect of the anime and the characters’ intentions become a major driving force.

The anime borders bleak and depressing at times.  One of the major aspects of this anime is the negative influence of the supernatural; the fallout of the pillar of light is almost entirely negative.  Many episodes end of a depressing note and one managed to break my heart completely before the first half the episode ended.

Interestingly, this bleak tone also wraps into a slight horror aspect in the anime.  Boogiepop Phantom is hard to define with genres and most oft for the horror label.  It isn’t entirely hard to see why as many character aspects are unsettling at best.  See the picture above of a guy eating a yellow spider with intense determination.  Uncertainty plays its way into many aspects and creates the same unsettling tone.  The body count seems unusually high too with some fairly messy deaths.  I’d personally describe the anime as more psychological than horror but these aspects certainly commonly attribute themselves to the horror genre.

What is probably the most impressive aspect of Boogiepop Phantom, for all the comments I’ve made above, is the ability to drive home focused messages.  The characters often face similar root issues and their inability to influence such a problem becomes a key fatal flaw.  I won’t go into much detail here but the topic of change, escapism, and loss are major discussion points of the anime.

I think one’s love for this anime can be probably described in a major aspect of the narrative: asynchronous.  Many time cards are shown to assist in the understanding of when and where each event happened.  Many find this type of non-linear narrative annoying and frustrating.  Those who do will absolutely lose their mind watching Boogiepop Phantom as the same event’s outcome reflect through the eyes of many different individuals.  Those that aren’t likely will find the anime entertaining and enjoyable.

Characters

As mentioned previously, the narrative takes a vignette form.  Virtually every episode will introduce a new character (and some with multiple introductions per episode), give them a full history, and then end their arc.  This makes it pretty much impossible for me to discuss the characters as I traditionally do.

What I will say however is that the character roster is deep, round, and varied.  One of the greatest aspects of the anime is the strong ensemble cast; motivation, characterization, and result vary greatly.  This depth and broadness plays in an incredible manner as many viewers will find their own issues reflected onto them.  I find this even more meaningful in today’s world where the topic of escapism via medium is becoming larger and larger.   In many regards, the darkest aspects of such topics will come out.  One could read it as a partial deconstruction as it reflects how these traits and supernatural events don’t mix…at all.

To some level, I suspect most viewers will find a character to attach themselves to.

Animation

One will notice the “washed out” palette right away.   The entire world is painted in brown, grey, and black to a large degree.  Many shots are night shots.  It’s not like this is just an unconscious choice either as the final episode takes this out completely and gives an episode in traditional anime colours.  The second effect will be the faded and faux projector effects to the border of the screen.  While both are intentional for reasons you’ll likely figure out later in the anime, they are very interesting effects to the animation and will make it stand out in your collection because of the dull colouring.

A major aspect that really intrigues me about Boogiepop Phantom is the fairly realistic character design in animation.  Anime has a large tradition of having characters with outrageous hairstyles and hair colour.  Boogiepop Phantom averts that nearly completely.  For the most part hair colour, hairstyle, and eye colour will reflect what one would expect in any given high school.  Few anime avert these traditional tropes this completely and will stand out for this reason as well.

Now, the above comes as both a positive and a negative though.  On the positive, it is unique.  Extremely so because anime loves utilizing unusual hair colours and styles to their largest effect.  However, I will also note that it becomes sometimes difficult to separate and distinguish characters.  On first view, I didn’t make every connection possible because I often visually identify characters…in particular, the last episode when the colour scheme becomes more vibrant.

The animation can be brutal at times.  What little combat exists is done swiftly.  Action is fast paced but short-lived.  And this isn’t even going to the horror aspect of the anime which can be very, very graphic.  One particularly gory scene has body parts of a recently killed individual.  And the body parts shift during transportBlood rarely appears in the anime but when it does it’s used to its most unsettling effect.  And common jump scares with utterly creepy characters are utilized at least once.

You go ahead and stay.  I'm running.

Everyone on 3…2…1…AAH!

One complaint I’ll lob at the animation is its love of characters facing away from the camera.  Action will typically occur but in a 2000 anime, it can get distracting when characters don’t face the camera.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

I mentioned before that the sound director, Yota Tsuruoka, has an extremely prolific career and has led major anime sound.  He makes absolutely no mistake here.  The soundtrack to Boogiepop Phantom is incredible.  I think for about 9 of the 12 episodes I have a note regarding the use of sound editing or effective background music.  It is electric or techno at its core but it is top-notch.  They punctuate scenes extremely well and will set the tone in regard to mystery, action, horror, climax, and anything in between.  I’m amazed at how many of the soundtracks made their way into my favourites.  If you’re on the border, please watch Boogiepop Phantom purely for this.  I don’t know any other anime which utilizes so many different effects and subtle shifts (such as those in conversation loudness) to such an effect.  Even the void of white noise is utilized (though given that Tsuruoka worked on Lain, this isn’t a huge shock).

The opening, Evening Showers, feels a bit out-of-place.  In fact, I think the entire opening is a bit odd as a selection since all it does is introduce the primary characters.  Though given the anime, I can kind of see why.  It still feels dated by at least 15 years from production though…so today it feels fairly old.   The closing, Mirai Seiki Maruhi Club, plays a much more integrated role and feels much more appropriate as a theme for the anime overall on most occasions.

The anime’s subs and dubs are both fairly effective.  Dubs primarily consist of a “greatest hits” of the ’90s in the primary and important characters.  Crispin Freeman, Rachel Lillis, and Lisa Ortiz all make appearances.  I have a slight preference to the sub with exception of one character (Saki Yoshizawa) but I think both are possible options.  My suggestion is probably pick whichever you like more.  A major issue in either language is the number of voice actors though…there certainly wasn’t enough of a budget to offer top billing voices for every character and some in both languages are a bit lacking.

Synergy

I think mystery and psychology holds the anime together.  It pulls together character design, art choices, and music.  The pull of what’s happening in story and to each character causes you to come in.  Each of the above elements enforces that and pushes you along that direction.  The depth of the character’s perspective and horror elements keep the episode sharp and punctuated.  And you leave with a question about how each character really became what they are.

Why to Watch

Boogiepop Phantom is an anime I could recommend for many reasons.  If you love mystery, watch it.  If you want something with a little thinking involved and won’t lose its narrative novelty on first pass, watch it.  If you love psychologically interesting characters…you know what I’ll say.  What it comes down to is the fact that Boogiepop Phantom is great at what it intended.  The characters with backgrounds have unique and interesting reasons for their existence…though sometimes flimsy.  The sound editing is amazing.  Suspense and tension all work.

Let’s just leave it at this: if you liked any of the positives in the full review, watch Boogiepop Phantom.  Or, inversely, look below and if you don’t see a reason to NOT watch, watch it.  I mean, all subbed episodes are available legally on YouTube and two dubbed episodes exist.

Why Not to Watch

The problem with the “Why to Watch” section, of course, is that this also implies a quite unfortunate inverse situation…this anime isn’t good if you aren’t interested in its primary elements.  This anime, at best, has limited action.  If you want that, you’re out of luck here.  If you want something uplifting and positive on a continual basis, it isn’t going to happen.  If you want to follow a single character, this is the furthest thing from.  Heck, if you like vibrant colours, this isn’t going to happen.  If you don’t want a little background work to do first (or just read the above comment in the story section), you should move on unless you want to lose out on part of the narrative.  None of these points work out well for the anime though, again, it seems there is little focus here to begin with.

Personal Enjoyment

I think I was born to watch this anime.  It contains virtually everything I want and doesn’t have things I don’t want.  I love psychologically heavy anime.  Introducing characters every episode made a lot of fun as it let me explore more characters than most anime let me.  I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it…the anime and I get along very well in focus.

Summary

Boogiepop Phantom is anime set out to continue its unique narrative style in animated form.  And in that regard, it does that very well.  It uses a vignette style narrative to follow a story and connect two of its light novels.  Heavy on psychology, suspense, mystery, and character mentality sharing, it emphasizes the key points of the light novels.  Viewers interested in these points will have a great experience I believe.  Conversely, having no interest in these traits will make the anime tedious at best.

Overall Rating

Boogiepop Phantom ended with 7.89/10 for me.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a great anime and it currently ranks one of my favourite overall.  The single number may not reflect it but Boogiepop Phantom is one of the most interesting and unique anime I know of and highlights a major flaw in using a single value to reflect quality.

The show highly excelled in most regards but had its highest score in characters.  There is a strong and diverse cast of characters to understand and learn.  Many change within the span of a single episode to reasonable levels.  The only stat below a 7 out of 10 is music and vocals.  This again reflects a major limitation as this number entitles the incredible background music but also the voice actors who do a good but not exceptional job.