Review: Eden of the East

 I cried the rain that fills the ocean wide

Catch the wheel that breaks the butterfly…

Background

East of the Eden is one of those anime you hear about quite a bit.  Extremely popular, well-recognized, and probably has a bit of a reputation proceeding it. It’s quite interesting to see where my lines fall in comparison to those of previous viewers.

Strangely, unlike the other anime I have reviewed, there isn’t much that really stands out from the production side. Production I.G is a fairly large organization and it sticks its hands into quite a few anime though it has got some great roots in the science fiction anime.  Ghost in the Shell, in this case, is its baby.  Actually, this franchise is probably key to understanding a bit of the background of Eden of the East since Production I.G went in-house to Kenji Kaniyama, the director of many parts of Ghost in the Shell (in specific, the Stand Alone Complex pieces), to take over the same roles he had in those anime: Director, Screen Composer, Script, and Storyboard.  Basically, they wanted to tap his brain again.

But of even larger interest is the character designer, Chica Umino.  Though this is mostly because of the similarities between protagonist Akira Takizawa, and Honey and Clover‘s Shinobu Morita.  As in, it’s obvious they wanted to draw lines between the two.

Aside from that, it’s key to note the composer.  Kenji Kawai has a hugely prolific career as a composer and while I can’t say he’s my favourite composer, it’s important to in mind his vast career as I approach the music comments.

Story

Three months before the anime begins, several missile strikes hit Japan in an event called “Careless Monday”.  It probably took place on a Monday, but that’s just a guess.  Anyways, Japan fell under attack by several missile strikes which, while dealing extreme damage to the infrastructure in the vicinity, did not actually kill anybody due to a large string of freak coincidences.  Protests and reaction sparked after the launches but quickly died down because of the real lack of leads.  In a similar stretch of time, 20,000 NEETs (“No education, employment, or training”) vanished from Japan.

Jump ahead to the first episode.  Saki Morimi is a university student pretty much set to graduate and take off into the work force.  This is a pretty big thing so her and her friends run off to USA for a little bit of time.  But she decides to abandon them fora little and visit DC.  While she’s by the White House, attempting to throw a coin into the fountain for god knows what reason, she meets Akira who at this point in time has no memories of anything, is stark naked, and is holding a gun and a cell phone.  And when I mean no memories, I mean nothing about himself; He apparently has a great recollection of Hollywood movies and is able to pinpoint even obscure films out.  Oh, and did I mention his cell phone seems to be connected to an all-powerful assistant named Juiz?  She can seemingly do anything she wants, up to and including making the Japanese Prime Minister say “Uncle” for no good reason.  Oh, and did I also mention Akira has an 8.2 billion Yen bank account for Juiz to carry out these orders with?  No?  My apologies.  I meant to get to that.

After some antics around DC, they decide to return to Japan together.  The story follows the adventures of the two as Akira attempts to restore and rediscover his past and his memories while Saki continues on in her old world and gets them and Akira to mix/integrate with each other.  The events of the past are tied in and we are left with an explanation of the world we have just witnessed.

That’s some lovely wreckage there.

The world itself and the hypothetical it poses are actually by far the most interesting part of the story.  The world they actually tell you creates a whole host of opportunities to stop and think.  The show is highly charged from a political point of view and while I’m not an expert in Japanese politics, can certainly understand and even relate to the problems that they speak of.  The topic of youth status, cultural development, and political issues rise very frequently.  A recurring question later on becomes, “If you had 10 billion Yen to change Japan, what would you do?”.  And, after transferring currency and country, this becomes a brilliant hypothetical to any nation and any individual.  From this aspect, it’s a well and extremely interesting product.

However this is also mixed in with the pacing of the show and exposition method.  It’s terrible at best.  An extremely short anime, 11 episodes, it fumbles between so many different arcs, characters, and situations that it barely gives much depth or interesting thought about any of the above.  The ending of the show is probably the most egregious as, while it answer our questions, it does it in an info-dump sort of method at the start of the episode and then leaves us with many other questions left hanging.  The movies are hardly much better and, while they do provide closure on the narrative arc, leave a lot of questions unknown.  And it’s unlikely they’ll ever be answered.

Actually, let’s take an aside to discuss the info-dumps.  This cheesed me off.  It really cheesed me off.  Maybe it’s a bit of my own idiosyncrasy though – I enjoy having to put together the intricate elements of the story itself.  For example, one of the greatest games I’ve ever played was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.  This game basically just let you piece together some of the background yourself.  Want another example?  Look at the blog’s name.  That show probably host lecture on how to hide the story.  At any rate, the fact that the key aspects of the show presented the information in nothing more than lengthy monologues really killed the fun for me.  Especially when it came from characters who show up and begin throwing out exposition.  Hey, at least Martian Successor Nadesico had the balls to call that character “The Exposition Lady” halfway through the show.

Part of the problem is that it tries to balance two worlds: Akira’s and Saki’s.  For much of the anime, they barely interact and do mostly in the most superficial of ways.  When things begin to pick up it gets better in its narrative handling.  I wouldn’t call it stellar in this aspect, but it at least works.  But this is what creates problems.  The already short anime is split even further into a world which kind of barely moves until the last episode or two and the world which we need to explore and solve.  Not points for guessing which is which.  And when things get so short you really can’t build much of anything.

I can’t say it’s all bad in the story telling methods however.  This same brevity also works to some small part in Eden of the East‘s favour.  In the same breath that it uses to tell us it’s short and you’re likely not going to get detail on any of Akira’s world, we also realize that Akira is rushing through society.  He’s hunting answers and he tries to get them quickly.  The show might have improved if there wasn’t any focus on Saki and her friends in this realm of thought.

This next part can go either way: the humour.  The show is unrepentant part comedy.  In good times and in bad it’ll always try to turn things to the funny.  Serious action sequence?  Probably got jokes.  Story is progressing?  Let’s toss in a little humour.

Oh, and before I forget, check your thoughts of humour before preparing to watch this show.  The show has two primary levels of humour: the slapstick and the Johnny.  I mean penis.  No, seriously.  The animation team seemed to have a fascination with it.  Let me give an example: in the first episode, a police officer was asking to see Akira’s Johnny, which is to say passport.  So he subsequently drops his pants.  Cue laughter.  Honestly, this type of humour doesn’t work for me but it might for others.  It’s all well and good for kids…kind of.  They put cute and cartoonish white squiggles over the fun bits.

Characters

The anime’s main characters are undoubtedly Akira and Saki.  However, we are also introduced to at least nine other characters who you should be familiar with at some level.

This pretty much, including the fact that there is less than 4 hours to explore the world, a strong indication of the level of depth of most of these characters.  Most have at most two faces to their personality and they are rarely explored in any deep or meaningful manner.  They are instead presented as an almost monologue styled exposition.  And while I kind of amused myself with Micchon’s antics, she’s hardly a deep character.  In fact I think a huge problem with the show is the fact that most of the characters are one note.  They seemingly populate a world just for the sake of populating it.  In my review of Haibane Renmei, I considered this a flaw even though philosophical questions could be to blame.  I think the same may exist here: despite the fact that we really don’t see most characters long enough to really get to a point where we can see them develop, it’s hard on a show when we basically see them as all flat characters.

Another major issue here is the static level of the characters.  With about exception to one aspect of Saki, the entire world seems pretty consistent.  Akira never varies from his happy-go-goofy self for example.  I mean, Akira and Saki are likeable people to most, sure.  Akira is a goofy guy and Saki edges very close to your average person. But at the same time, you’d expect them to change as the world impacts them.  Akira especially.  This really does impact the viability of character strength in the show in my opinion.

Animation

The animation has two primarily aspects: the CGI and the animation itself.

The CGI is used as a lazy effect.  I get that this show had a lot of put up and needed ways to save money.  Trust me, I understand.  DC (and New York City from the movies), from what I’ve heard, have some amazingly accurate details from what I’ve heard.  Much like how Bethesda put a lot of effort into accurately portraying the landscape of DC in Fallout 3, it seems time and effort was put into it for Eden of the East.  And with this they create some pretty great looking sequences.  However, it’s also important to note that CGI really stands out in this anime.  As in, eye rollingly so.  Buildings and vehicles, even to the eye of a newcomer, will seem fairly obvious.  Anything large will be put into CGI form typically.  And, while it helps because it did let large set ups be created which high frequency, it also detracts since it is so obvious.

The animation can break further.  We actually get a very clear distinction of foregrounds and backgrounds in Eden of the East.  You can tell, very quickly, what is recycled scenery and what is changing on the foreground.  Kind of the dual-sided nature of coming into the digital era of anime I find.  And this gets a little distracting for some people.  Maybe not you, but the more I’ve watched, the more this begins to bug me. I will say that there is a production value ramp.  This is kind of expected and par for the course though and these issues fade during the more important sequences…it’s just that these cover so little time that the filler animation seems necessary.

No discussion about Eden of the East and its animation is complete though without looking at its style of animation.  It is intentionally lighthearted and drifts to remind us of its jovial nature even at the most serious of times.  Blush stickers, empty eyes, and overall typical cute anime artistic choice is pulled.

Wait, what?

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

Sound. I can’t say too much about the background music itself.  You know how airport music and elevator music is music you’re not supposed to listen to?  Well, it works the same way in East of the Eden.  The tone and mood is driven purely by visuals and dialogue.  For example, how important the sequence is can be derived and determined by whether or not Saki’s eyes are the empty white circles shown above or if they are using the more serious art for her. I will say though that Kenji Kawai made some incredible decisions when it came to songs used in-show.  In particular, the closing piece, Brenda Vaughn’s Reveal the World, is excellently placed and really sets a semi-symbolic tone to the anime.

Of course, the most famous part you’ll likely ever hear about Eden of the East is its opening.  Falling Down by Oasis.  That and the animation that goes with it are amazing.  I typically call it an arts student’s wet dream because, well, look at it.  Beautifully laid out decorations all over the place, a chaotic scattering of text, and a great song to go with it.  If you look hard enough too, it becomes a reflection of the anime in lyric and in animation.  Unfortunately, licensing issues (namely, Oasis caring about its distribution in North America as oppose to Japan and charging a boatload more for dubbing companies to distribute it) meant that this only appears on the first episode of English anime.  Please just pretend it was for all of them as the alternative opening is kind of generic and is much less interesting in its utilization.  This is where Kenji Kawai’s experience works in the show’s favour I think.

The closing, while not memorable, is catchy enough.  Though this section is turning more into a “review the opening and closing” section, I think it’s interesting to point out how nice the ending looks.  Pretty atypical work and pretty interesting to watch.

Watching this show is fine in either the dubs or subs.  Personally I didn’t notice a real difference between the two.  The only real standout for me were two VAs from the English side: Stephanie Sheh (Micchon…notice a pattern?) and J. Michael Tatum (Kazuomi Hirasawa).  Both provided voices that better suited their role…at least in my mind.  Actually, this was the first time I’ve ever recall any work dubbed by Tatum and I’m overall impressed with his ability.  Maybe I’m just getting old…

I will notify you though that English-speaking characters in the Japanese narrative are great at their jobs.  While they don’t work perfectly, it’s rare to see that perfect an understanding of importance of language being emphasized.  The characters speak effective English and those which would have unexpectedly butchered English speak with strong, though understandable, accents.  This works very well at the immersion of yourself into the show if you happen to watch the subbed version instead.

Synergy

The mixture of tension and character appeal tries to drive the show primarily.  Akira is a nice guy and we want to see him succeed to some fundamental level.  Similarly, Saki has dreams and goals we can relate to and want to see her do well in life.  But the tension and events of the show make this impossible.  So the elements begin to focus on how the show disrupts and prevents that from happening.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much relation or synergy between the characters and the events themselves; it becomes more a tool of “what is forcing our lovely protagonists apart” than “what happened and how is it influencing the characters?”.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I like this angle.  It’s a fairly fresh and unique take on the dramatic elements.

Why to Watch

Eden of the East is a show almost everyone can get into.  As much as I’ve critiqued elements of the show and have disagreed with the direction taken, it’s something that you can show almost anybody and they can get interested and engaged with.  The lighthearted tone makes it something you can watch without getting too emotionally invested and it gives you characters you genuinely care for…something that seems lacking at times in other anime.  The story gives you a good mix of a little bit of everything: a little action, a little comedy, a little drama…you name it, it has it.  It also asks questions relevant to society, in particular about apathetic youth, cultural identity, and how this all impacts the world around them.

And don’t forget about the incredible opening.

Why Not to Watch

The show, while it does everything, doesn’t do well at anything either.  It has comedy, yes, but it’s really kind of restricted to penis gags and a little staple humour.  It has action, but nothing extreme.  It has story, but it handholds you through the discovery process and doesn’t really let you do too much with it.  The animations, while a nice breather from what I typically watch, have a horrible tendency to reveal the obvious background/foreground choices that were made during the animating process.  If any one of those elements were the only draw, you’ll leave a little disappointed.  If you handed this to a newcomer to anime, you may wish to treat it as hor’dourves, something that will give them a light taste of what’s to come and may even give them extreme enjoyment but nothing that will sate their appetite.

And, of course, the ending never really summarizes in a really satisfactory manner.  Again, if I may compare to Martian Successor Nadesico, that show had the balls to point it out and say that they’ll be answered “in the inevitable sequel” (which…it turns out, they weren’t).

Personal Enjoyment

I like work where I don’t get to find out what’s going on fully.  The humour really wasn’t my speed unfortunately and it may be a sign that I’m out of my element in this anime.  I actually quite enjoyed a few episodes, but those were far apart.  I think the best way for me to put this was I found the show kind of chugged along until it ended.

Summary

I find the primary thing to remember when considering East of the Eden is that it’s not a hardcore thriller, comedy, or drama anime.  It does each of the above, but doesn’t do them to such a degree that it overwhelms the rest.  It has a great philosophical question too, but doesn’t explore it to as great a degree as you may wish for.  The primary protagonists are likeable but primarily static and the secondary characters are static.  Where this show really takes off is its ability to be approachable by fans of pretty much any genre.  Then it ties itself off with a beautiful finishing of sound…especially the opening.

Overall Rating

East of the Eden has 5.62/10 on my spreadsheet.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a fairly decent show and I would suggest anybody to test a few of the free episodes on Funimation’s YouTube channel in their spare time.  This may seem counter-indicative to the score, but consider the universal appeal of this show.  When given a free outlet, I’d suggest anything with that wide an appeal to give it a couple of episodes before making their decision.

The show highly excelled in its musical elements under my scores.  This and personal enjoyment as I could think long and hard about the philosophical questions raised.  However, the show’s story (in particular, depth of exploration) and characters (their static nature) kind of held the anime back in this raw score.

The Theory of Objectification in Anime

Objectification…that term is thrown around a lot. We hear it a lot…especially when it comes to sexism. In particular, I’ve written this as a bit of a precursor to the entire field of anime and the role of female characters. This post is intended to be more of an introduction to the concept and the problems surrounding it more than actually deriving anything unique or specific.

So, what exactly IS objectification? If we do something as simple as a Google search, the definition pretty much reads the conversion and treatment of a human into an object through tone and text. This might be hard to engage as a reader, so I’ll try explaining it below:

Sentence Structure

What an odd place to start you may say. Why do we start here you ask? It’s because I find if we retrace the basic concept of a sentence, it’s easy to relate the structure to the role and term.

So, in a sentence, we have two key nouns: a subject and an object. Simply put, a sentence can be broken down into subjects doing something to an object. For example, in the sentence “I charged the door”, I am the subject, the door is an object, and the action is charging it.

All well and good, but how does this help us understand objectification? One of the biggest aspects of character traits is the concept of agency. Agency is the power for a character to influence the fictional world around them. If they are in trouble, can they help themselves? If they need to convince someone of something, can they? So on and so forth. When we take this back to our sentences, if they can do these actions, they are subjects. They are actively doing something. In the simplest sentence, we can reduce it to a similar structure of the above: The [character] [did something] [to someone else].

Passive Wording and Objects

This is where objectification itself comes in: an object cannot retain the structure above without breaking grammatical conventions. If an object is conducting in action, it creates something called “passive voice”. I should know…most of my sentences become passive voice unless I actively seek to remove it from my work. Let’s use the same door charging example above though. I we decided to keep the same structure but have the object (door) act, we could get “The door was charged by me”. Notice how the object is acting. This creates passive voice. One of the easiest ways to identify passive voice is if you need to specify upon whom the object is acting upon. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but it should catch most of them. In this case, it is “me” who is being acted upon by “the door”.

Stop Dancing Around the Subject Man…How Does This Help?

With that background in mind, we can describe a story in brief sentences like the above. Our hero rescues the captive, our hero defeats the bad guy and so forth. Now let’s take a second here and get something straight: using characters as objects on its own is not a bad thing. In fact, this is pretty much key in this regard. If any interaction occurs between characters, we will almost invariably need to create objects out of characters. Even “I hit Adam” means you’ve turned Adam into an object that you can hit to a very small degree.

Where characters become objectified is when their personality becomes almost exclusively defined by how other characters act on them. They do not exert a will or any agency on the universe but instead are continually subjected to the will of other characters. For example, Peach (fine..Princess Toadstool) would always be treated as an object. If we use the sentence structure I defined, we’ll find she’s always the object of her stories when we describe the original Mario Brothers game. Peach was abducted by Bowser. Peach was moved to another castle (presumably by Bowser again). Peach was rescued by Mario. In each case, she’s the object. It’s unfair to pin this all on the game, sure, since storytelling in video games itself were fairly limited at the time, but we don’t get the sense that Peach did anything.

And is objectification on its own bad? No. The implementation of it an become concerning though in associating groups of individuals with being object.

Group Objectification

This is the only you’ve most likely heard about before. In particular, objectification of female characters in anime sometimes becomes a particularly sticky subject as claims of them being used as purely bait for male characters becomes emphasized. Indeed, I think you could make a point of that by saying that poorly written harem anime exemplifies this at its worst: each female character only exists to appeal to a small part of the viewer profile and do not interact with each other.

But at least you get fields of pretty girls for all your trouble…or something.

And here’s where I’ll declare something fundamental in my opinion: anime is not a medium isolated from the “real” world. Society affects it and it affects society. How much can be debated – god knows people still debate until they’re red in the face how important or influential movies and video games are for children. However, we certainly know that entertainment is not isolated. The way you see the world is changed and altered by what you watch and read. Have you never seen a show or read a book that you feel you should integrate into you system of thought or process? If not, I would imagine you are in the minority. Heck, Extra Credits (again, I love that group) just about had a fit when they were talking about Call of Juarez: The Cartel for this exact reason and it’s one of the few times they ever had to self censor themselves. I’ve posted the link talking about propaganda games (the more important aspect), but I would look that up if you have the chance.

The gritty details themselves may be geared more towards games, but if anybody opens it, I want to make sure you understand that these do not exist alone. What we read and see can influence how we act. And it is through this that designers need to be somewhat careful that they don’t overstep or overemphasize specific material.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP4_bMhZ4gA

I’ll give you a personal example: my ability to write has been drastically altered after playing 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. While this was later altered by my own idiosyncrasies, the methods I go about writing characters and revealing their true character traits have changed dramatically.

So, why all this? Well, I think we need to understand that while objectification of characters themselves is not harmful, tying objective traits to specific groups is. Again, let’s return to the video above. These things aren’t effective when you think of them as such, but when they’re quietly place, you might cause shifts in thought. But if they are subtly and accidentally placed in and we don not think of them as effects that can alter our thought, we can be prone to changing our opinion because of them. And this is where I believe most people feel concern if they think about objectification of characters in anime: too many objectified characters of a specific group can lead to thought of that group being more of an object because they have been engaged as such previously. Again, this heavily comes down from the female character side, but there are other small sections on this.

Really, and I’ll emphasize this as many times as I think it’ll take to get through: objectified characters are not an issue. Objectification itself isn’t an issue. But objectification of groups repeatedly through different shows may influence the viewership if they are not aware of it. I will also repeat that it’s impossible typically to measure the effects of it and should not be taken as an excuse to censor or to alter. But awareness is key. Being aware means being capable of recognizing when objectification is used. By recognizing, it is possible to not be prone to incidental indoctrination as described in the Extra Credits video.

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have something more fun to talk about next time.

The Anime/Video Game Connection

So this has been a post I’ve been trying to string together for a while.  This topic is one I’ve thought long and hard about…so my apologies in advance if I skip steps or forget to explain something; I’ve been working at this for so long that I’ve probably assumed you know some things I just don’t bother to explain.  The concept is about how close anime and video games actually are.

Reading this over, I realize how much passive voice I’ve used.  Screw it though.  It’s 1:30 AM and I’ve spent a couple different mornings working on this.

Anyways, the fundamental reason I’m writing this post is because I’ve noticed a very strong trend in Western media: video games and anime typically don’t get a lot of recognition as an art or explored medium.  And it almost purely seems to be the two.  I mean, the two seem to get a lot of flak for any nudity, violence, and more.  They aren’t given respect as a medium.  They sometimes deal with mature subjects, but aren’t treated as if they can competently grapple with such topics.  Yet transpose such stories to literature or film…or even some live action TV settings and they can get lauded for dealing with a tough story or situation.  I mean, Black Swan gets away with a literal scene of “Milas Kunis eats out Natalie Portman” and gets cheers for the whole movie being creepy.  Don’t believe me?  Ask TVtropes.  Heck, at one point acclaimed film critic Robert Ebert decried that video games could never be an art.  He later changed his tone, saying that it really isn’t possible for him to judge, but you get the idea of how industry really does feel about games in general.

I’m rambling again.  Let’s redirect this topic: if we tried to add the same sex scene into a reasonably melodramatic game for, to keep the parallels similar, adding a level of “creepiness” to the game, I don’t think it’d fly very well.  I don’t mean “add sex for the sake of sex” in anime or video games.  I mean adding it for a good reason in story.  I’m honestly scratching on the order of 1 game which has ever tried that (Red Dead Redemption) and really didn’t get decried for it.  Well, maybe if you’re looking at smaller and less observed games, visual novel fans may point me to Katawa Shoujo, but let’s keep it at big title games as I’m not sure if moral guardians are trying to smoke out visual novels too much.  Actually, that reminds me, I should go try that out at some point…oh, how my “must try” list keeps getting longer and longer as I get older.  Unfortunately, I see similar tones come out about anime.

At this point, I will again highlight that this is strongly an indicator of Western media and should not be misconstrued how others may view anime.  I can’t speak to that as strongly.  However, Western readers…please take a second to think about how anime is viewed by the typical person you know.  Think about what happens if you said you, again, tried to add the same for artistic reasons.  Then tell your non-anime fan friend.  Tell your neighbour.  Tell critics.  I don’t think you’ll get the same response.

Now, I think this may be a bit unclear, since there are legitimately some people who probably do think the Black Swan scene is over-the-top, so let’s try another example and just cut it down to the barest elements.  Let’s tell someone you’re making and artistic [blank] with nudity in it.  Tell a hundred random people you’re making an art house style novel.  You’ll probably get a quick question, but people understand it.  Heck, people jump to Game of Throne’s defence when they say it has too many breasts in it, saying it’s just being fair to the literature source material.  Nobody complained about that.  Actually, this works on two levels, since this reflects both our ability to accept mature themes in both live action shows as well as literature.  Literature, especially, is recognized as a traditional art medium.  Heck, after a little cleaning up, On the Road is considered a classic.  If that doesn’t define pure art and its ability to utilize odd and somewhat controversial elements, what does?

At any rate, follow this up by asking some people about making artistic movies with nudity.  Again, a few questions, but it’s perfectly accepted.  I mean, I started off with an example of a fairly unusual sequence which people seem fine with.  Heck, what I was talking about above utilized sex as a strong fundamental point in a movie.

For full effect, now try asking about making artistic video games using nudity.  Again, ask completely random people.  I’m sure many of you will get questions as “what exactly IS that?” or laughs if you tell them it means adding in tasteful nudity for effect.  I mean, this is the same genre that has is infamous for the God of War 3 scene, am I wrong?  And that is one of the most famous examples of sex in video games to come out of the recent era.  Extra Credits did an excellent video on how immature nudity is handled and this story keeps getting reflected back when you think about video games and sex.

Finally, tell them you’re planning to add nudity into an anime project you’re working out.  Once you explain what anime is, I suspect your response will be along the lines of “oh, you’re making hentai”.  Cue your eyes rolling and wishing I had never sent you on this journey.

Just great, isn’t it?  So, why all this disconnect?  I mean, it’s not like artistic games and artistic anime don’t exist.  If you’re like me and collect these sorts of shows and games over time, you start building a unique collection of creative and unique medium to enjoy.  Heck, even anime or video games recognized as artistically valid rarely change these opinions.  Spirited Away won an Academy Award in 2001 for best animated film and it’s STILL not recognized widely as an artistic medium. So what’s up?

It’s all about acceptance and appearance in my opinion.

What do you think of when you think book?  I personally imagine a well established organization, one who has shown to be a mature, understanding genre.  Same with movies.  There was a time in which they were worried about violence, but that’s slowly died down in favour of video game bashing.  When these mediums get their hands on controversial matter, people don’t start attacking them and saying that they are overstepping their limits.  It might not always happen that they deal with it properly, but people are willing to give them a leash.  As an artistic medium, as the Extra Credits video above discussed (should you have watched it), it has earned that right of passage by showing that it can competently deal with it on a reasonably consistent basis.

And this is where I feel video games and anime have been lumped together by Western society at large: both anime and video games are not given proper respect in Western society with regards as artistic mediums in part because they don’t do enough to defy common conventions.

I keep referring to the Extra Credits video, but I feel there are huge comparisons you can make between anime in the West and video games in this respect.  When the mediums started out, they were a blank slate.  For years, they have both dealt with them at only the barest of levels: fan service.  I mean, anime was well-known by the ’90s as being the medium of drawing pretty, perfect girls…long before it became nearly standard practice.  And, hell, this was the decade where Lina freakin’ Inverse could be at the butt of breast size jokes (which, when artists realized this, has led to a really funny trend in recent years in her art).

No, seriously.

At any rate, let’s continue.  Anime and video games developed a pattern really quick of handling sexuality in really immature ways.  The common exports of the ’70s to ’90s were often shows aimed for younger audiences (ranging from Pokemon to Voltron) with the extremely rare exceptions outside of that.  Unfortunately, the adult medium permeated as well.  This led to quite the market of adult materials playing alongside it.  What this leads to in both mediums is the concept, whether right or wrong, that they simply aren’t a full-fledged artistic medium because of the fact that there isn’t proper handling of mature subjects yet.  And, as such, they aren’t really treated well with the aspects of their medium which actually do a good job dealing with it.  When you hear the words “sex” and “video game”, we don’t think of well handled topics.  You think of hypersexualization and treatment of characters more as sex symbols than all else.  Similarly, when I think “sex” and “anime”, my mind typically wanders in all the wrong directions in its handling, from the pointless (even when compared to the manga) use in High School of the Dead to the ever-present representation of moe character design to flat-out hentai.  I don’t go to scenes like the one used in Gundam SEED where, the longer and harder you think about it, the more you realize it’s really creepy what’s going on and how it really shows how mentally shattered the characters in the scene are.

Really…What. The. Hell.

But this is the killer, and the part I want everybody to take away.  It’s the biggest reason why I don’t think the mediums are respected artistically: the mediums of video games and anime do not do enough to defy conventional thought about the medium.  Of course, this comes with the assumption that people are rational beings.

Oh look, I jump a couple of steps there, didn’t I?  Well, here’s exactly what I mean: if people are rational, then they will change their stance if evidence proves them wrong on a basis frequent enough to challenge their current beliefs.  In this case, if video games or anime continually deal with mature subjects in a mature and meaningful way, then the public will change its mind to fit the new reality around it.  As the Extra Credits video easily identifies, the fact that this doesn’t happen confirm the current beliefs and further leaves the medium in a whole it seems unable to scale out of.

While I’ve spent a lot of time talking about sex, this applies to many other subjects as well.  Race and culture for example.  While it’s a video game example, I’ve always thought the character of Elisa from Tokimeki Memorial 4 is a brilliant example of the subject.  Elisa is a character pretty much purely written as a critique of Japan’s extremely xenophobic tendencies: even if you are a Japanese citizen, you’re not going to be treated as one unless you look the part.  As a brief summary so you get the point: Elisa is a Japanese citizen who isn’t treated as such purely because she doesn’t fit the fairly homogeneous look of Japan.

And this is why I so strongly identify with Miyazaki’s comments (talked about previously): I really do think anime can be a legitimate and defined medium alongside film and literature.  The same goes with games.  They are mediums which can offer extremely quality and unique insights into the reality we inhabit.  Games can provide a unique interactive medium, something that can strengthen certain messages.  A common example is to heighten the powerlessness the protagonist may have.  But that’s more of an aside…the highlight is that these genres have something that can they can provide to the culture at large much better than they do today.

However, the culture which people see must change with it.  The public in general needs to see and understand that anime/games are more than what they think they are.  Again, when you challenge perception, the perception needs to be changed to accommodate the new information. But the problem is, and this hold greatly for anime, that the fans are becoming more and more exclusive and the companies are acting to direct to favour that.  As I expressed in my last post, the direction of industry seems to be more of one to favour fans who are comfortable with the culture already, creating a dedicated but niche group of fans.  In fact, this is perpetuating the already existent stereotype of anime fans.  As such, there is very little challenging of the original belief.

Now, I’m not saying we should take every fan service laden show out back and shoot it.  Far from the truth.  I might not like the shows (as I have a fairly low tolerance of fan service before I roll my eyes), but that’s quite the wrong way to go about it.  The bigger step is to have aspects which challenge it, much the way Gundam SEED did in its day by showing a character having sex (for a mature intent from artistic points of view).

From hereon out, I’m going to lead more into a “how we can go about this” discussion.  It’s not terribly important to this connection that I’m trying to draw, but I feel it’s relevant enough that I want it down.  I’ll also limit my discussion to anime.

Now, this kind of leads me into the second part of what I really need to say and where I begin to diverge from Extra Credits’ well done video: I don’t think it’s up to the companies to change.  Companies, in my mind, are nothing more than machines designed to generate money.  Separate the customer from their money as cleanly and efficiently as possible.  Anime companies are just another group of individuals looking to do this separation by looking at how much we enjoy animated cells moving around.

To this end, I would suggest that to change anime, there needs to be a grassroots movement to want this sort of medium.  The simple concepts in supply and demand suggest that if people showcase a high demand, the production (assuming all else is fair) will try to fill the demand.

So, this turns into the following conclusion:

In order for anime to be respected as a legitimate artistic medium, fans need to treat it as one by showing this desire with their wallets. This will lead companies to shift production in that direction, challenging common stereotypes of anime.

Of course, it’s also important to note that first part:

In order to make change and get anime respected as a medium, we need to put our wallets on the line.

And I guess that is my challenge to you: if you want to see anime respected, put money anime which represents the direction you want to go.

Hayao Miyazaki and the “Otaku” Culture

I’m not sure how many know, but the legendary Hayao Miyazaki stirred quite a fuss recently among the anime fan base about his comments on the state of the anime industry.  Since this might be news for some, I’ve copied the direct quote below:

You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life.’  If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it.  Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku! (Source)

Now, of course, this would be quite a concern to a great deal of people; many anime fans consider themselves otaku and to claim that they’re a negative is almost a personal attack.  Searches on the internet will yield almost every type of result, from those applauding his comments to an outright fury.  It’s quite an interesting read if you ever look at the comment sections on any of the articles.

My personal reaction is a bit tempered and less concerned about the exact words he used because, as I often state, these sorts of things are very much contextually oriented in nature.

Words Are Key

First, and this is probably the most important thing to know, is that “otaku” as a loan word is very different than “otaku” as a Japanese word.  As a loan word, it typically keeps the same connotative meanings as “nerd” or “geek”, but tends to direct the interests towards Japanese media, such as manga or anime.  Traditionally in Japan, it was given a neutral light.  Lawrence Eng even points out the common fallacies in current belief, that it has always been a negative word by default.  The origin, even according to Eng, is pretty sketchy at the best of times, but certainly was meant to be neutral.

But a bigger problem, of course (and now you can just tune me out if you’re the type to search around Google a whole lot) is that otaku historically got tied to really bad people.  Like Tsutomu Miyazaki.  Long story short, he was a serial killer who kept reams upon reams of anime and slasher films.  Oh, and he killed four girls.  That might have something to do with it.  At any rate, an article on him brought the informal term to a whole new negative context for Japanese culture and popularized the term.  Worse yet is that the term otaku often gets tied in mass culture to the cultures of hikikomori (effectively translating as “shut ins”) and NEETs (not in employment, education, or training), rightly or wrongly, due to some of the subject matter played.

These days, however, the term appears to have more leniency…possibly.  Its actual meaning tends to get pegged all over the board.  According to an unlisted study by Wikipedia (thereby highlighting the dangers of looking up studies through Wikipedia) claims that as the anime culture has grown more pervasive, the stigma of being part of the otaku culture has faded somewhat and many young Japanese are willing to identify themselves as such.  Modern data is hard to find, but unfortunately, I do believe the values don’t stand in the court of public opinion.  Whatever the origins, it still seems to stand that it, as a commonplace word, will have the negative connotations attached.

Think of it this way: does anybody remember when “gamer” was not cool?  No?  Damn…I’m getting old–I mean, it actually did at one point.  It meant effectively the same at one point.  The culture of being heavily into video games did have its roots in a fairly dark place and only got darker as the Columbine incident tended to create mass media beliefs on it.  Much of that has lifted and, ultimately, the term itself is neutral…but anyone associated will get connected to a wide variety of issues, including online bullying (well, mostly shouting over XBox headsets), the entire “get in the kitchen” internet mentality, and violence in the medium just about any time the topic gets brought up.  In fact, and I honestly don’t agree with the whole article but it’s a great example of the permanent damage left to fix, David Wong of Cracked.com has a great article about the stigma about being a ‘gamer” in this day and age.

But anyways, I thought it’d be a good idea to know exactly what this term comes from.

Elements of a Japanese Otaku

Now, despite all the above, there’s something critical about the Japanese Otaku that desperately needs to be known: it’s VERY self-deprecating.  As in, insanely so.  It is very well accepted that the anime industry is a fairly poorly paying job.  It’s noted time and time again in media.  As a result, the workers are almost all motivated from non-salary reasons…mostly excitement for their job.  It’s not hard to imagine that, on this front, many otaku hold key positions in the anime industry.  And this is ultimately reflected in that self-deprecating manner I talked about above.  Think of the otaku you’ve seen in shows.  I can think of few (and by that, I mean one) that isn’t portrayed poorly.  And that’s Hikaru Amano from one of my favourite shows…again Martian Successor Nadesico.  Actually, scratch that.  As a whole, the entire Nadesico crew seems to be otaku given the prevalence of anime being a plot point in it.

Though I WILL admit this is Hikaru’s default state of mind.

But think of the rest of the otaku type of characters…many of them are portrayed as lovable losers or, in the weirdest and darkest scenarios, absolutely the embodiment of a classic anti-hero.  The most popular and probably predominant example I can think of to highlight this is Tomoko Kouri from WataMote (I’m not typing that all out).  She embodies a lot of the negative traits and they’re played for laughs.  This is pretty much the default attitude towards otaku in anime it seems.

Great.  Where Is This Going?

Okay.  So I’ve established that it is often otaku who run the industry.  This kind of supports part of Miyazaki’s statement (that the industry is run by otaku).  Now, there’s more to his statement than that.

Another key aspect in Miyazaki’s claims is that otaku can’t stand the concept of looking at people.  I think it’s more important to step back from this.  We can argue the semantics about “seeing people” until the cows come home (Which in Alberta tends to be 2 AM.  Random guess), but the most important takeaway are these two points in it I think:

  • Experience with other individuals allows a great experience to design from
  • The state of anime is moving away from more realistic characters and experiences

That is ultimately what he’s getting at.  He approaches it from an art angle (because, let’s face it, it’s Miyazaki.  He loves art), but this is the primary concern and, of course, unrealistic animation styles will ultimately come from the above.  So, does THIS aspect actually stand.

Well, and I’m sure there will be people who disagree with me on this, I think the first part is pretty true.  The concept of draw from experience is very common.  It’s easier for you to draw something you know and recognize than to fabricate.  Same thing goes with realism: you can attempt to draw/imagine/create realistic characters, but if you KNOW what a realistic person does, acts, or feels like, the whole process becomes easier.  And, in all honesty, will likely end up better (though, like drawing from experience for other acts, this may come up with limitations).

This leaves the second part up for debate.  And this is something I think may be much more questionable.  It’s hard to justify this part to me as I’m not aware of this sort of situation.

However, Mr. Miyazaki’s point does raise an issue of my own.  And that’s the increasing prevalence of otaku “in jokes”.  Shows and characters which do rely on being part of the otaku culture in order to understand are becoming more and more prevalent and the expense of general viewer understanding.  While they themselves are not net negatives, their inclusion can become more hostile as a show to other viewers who are not as familiar with the culture.  This breeds secularism type of structure, where the culture protects and insulates itself from most visitors, but the visitors who come in and understand the jokes love them.  Such a thing is hard to do.  Shows with perpetual and primarily running gags that rely on inside knowledge to laugh at are extremely hard to run.  Even the, in my opinion, two best live action comedies, Arrested Development and Community, have (or did) struggle with viewers despite fans having the avid fanbase in love enough to effectively become door-to-door salesmen.

Continuing down this path of secular jokes is a huge concern to me.  I’ve always been a person who could imagine anime as being part of an artistic medium, something with strong reputability (more on that in coming weeks as I compare anime with video games and their somewhat lack of frequent representation as art).  There are some, as there are some excellent video games in art (9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is my favourite game, dead stop.  Red Dead Redemption does a good job as well…again, more on this later), but they aren’t at great frequency, nor does most anime stretch its borders enough to really put itself as a reputable art.  With the medium becoming more closed off from the rest of the world and focusing on themselves, it seems less likely that this will happen.

But anyways, that’s enough screwing around for now.  It’d be interesting to hear what you think about Miyazaki’s comments though.

Postulation – Endless Eight

So, yeah.  I was scanning YouTube and one of my frequent stops is GRArkada.  If you don’t subscribe to him, do so.  He’s a pretty cool guy (and a fellow Canuck).

Anyways, he was reviewing the Haruhi franchise, done by Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), and decided to dedicate an entire video on the infamous Endless Eight episodes.  A link to his video is provided below, but for reference, the Endless Eight series is the use of 8 of 13 episodes in the second season around a very minor aspect of the light novels.  In fact, if memory serves, the short story only shows the last move through the loop.  Anyways, the summer is coming to an end and the characters find themselves in a time loop that repeats.  Thousands of times.  Each episode is fairly similar, highlighting the same events (typically) and only being visually different much of the time.  The video also contains GRArkada’s opinion on the matter and it’s worth a good listen to.

Now, this episode sequence is one of the most hotly debated series I can remember.  It not only divided fans in half, but staff.  The video above notes that some of the decision makers hated it.  One point that wasn’t mentioned, and really should be, is that the Voice Actress for main character Haruhi Suzumiya, Aya Hirano, also hated the sequence.  Turns out, the VAs had to redo the lines eight times over as well.  Okay, now tell me YOUR job is menial.

But the question still remains: what exactly is the reason for it?  Laziness?  Insanity?  Obsessive love of the number eight?  An elaborate prank?  I’ll try to address some points that I’ve used to look at this and narrow down what really is meant by this.

1) Each episode was lovingly animated and redone

Anybody who viewed the video above knew this already, but each episode is actually unique.  Every piece of the episode was redone from scratch.  In fact, extra steps were taken to ensure they were different.  That’s a great deal of dedication and expense.  Repeats, such as flashbacks or off model work, are cost saving measures.  This was the effect of a cost saving measure, but without the cost savings.  If it helps, think of the Community flashback episode: the show pretended to have flashbacks to events that happened, but actually had to build the sets for each of the flashbacks as they were never filmed before.  Both cases use money on an event that’s traditionally meant to smooth over a Neon Genesis Evangelion styled budget.  Add in the previously mentioned fact that the VAs had to redo their lines for each episode and we can rule the concept that they were looking to save time or money.

2) KyoAni is very meticulous with their work. 

From my copy of the Haruhi Season 1 DVDs, I’ve taken 3 screenshots and highlighted a few points you might want to see.  Why I’ll explain after you get a chance to view them:

No, not the eyes.

No, not the eyes.

Did I ever mention how much I love drawing in paint?

Have I mentioned my love of the first season’s animation yet? I should.

So, what’s the point of all this?  These are all screenshots from season 1, but reference stories and events that never aired in that season.  They actually do appear later in the series, but in the second season, something that wasn’t a guarantee at the time.  In fact, if you look at the chronological order, the items only appear after their correct chronological appearance time.   In other words, the staff actively took great deals of pride ensuring these little details in the continuity appeared, despite no guarantee it would actually pay off or mean anything.  This is something I don’t see in anime to THIS degree and I think stands to reason that KyoAni planned out the Endless Eight arc with forethought and intent, if the above wasn’t a hint.

3) The Fans Were Expected to Have the Disappearance Arc of the Haruhi Franchise Appear

For many of us older fans, this should be obvious.  However, I’m not sure everyone who has seen the show recently knows this: it seems extremely likely that adding in story from The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, a now highly acclaimed movie which follows up on the story of Endless Eight, was planned for a while.  If you check out Wikipedia’s page on the movie, a major Easter egg on the Haruhi.tv website was planted on a key date in the narrative: December 18, 2007.  This was not too long after the first season wrapped up (Ending July 2006) and not shortly after the second season was announced (July 2007).  Later on, large art releases for the season season of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise were made which focused purely and emphasized the story of the Disappearance Arc.  In other words, I think fans were expecting what eventually became a movie to appear eventually in the second season of Haruhi.

4) The Episodes Aren’t Purely Wasted

I don’t unfortunately have the Season 2 DVDs and am fairly staunchly against pirating non-abandonware, so I can’t show this to you, but the series of episodes seems to highlight something about a key character in the movie, Yuki Nagato.  She’s effectively the most stoic character you’ll ever see in…well, any show.  I mean, here’s probably the most emotive moment you’ll see from the first season:

Okay, I don’t know what you want, but take all of my money. All of it.

Now, Yuki is also a special character: she actually remembers every single repetition of the Endless Eight arc.  And it’s a two week sequence repeated on end.  Now, I’m not sure who else has read Stephen King’s The Jaunt, but typically spending lots of time being unable to really interact with your environment makes you kind of, well, crazy.  This is something that really does come up later on.  But finding a way to express it on a character such as Yuki is really, really hard.  I mean, she does very little and says very little.  The Endless Eight episodes seem to act as a bit of a measure saying “well, you only watched the abridged version.  Eight times.  Try many more”.

5) KyoAni Seems to Have No Interest in a Season 3

Now, it’s only been a few years, but I would hazard that the show is dead in the water at this point.  I’d love to be wrong, as it’s happened to me a few to many times in games and shows dying unnecessarily (most spectacularly: Damn you Slayers!), but KyoAni doesn’t like doing long franchises (most wrap up within 3 years) and there’s a lack of fresh source material.  I would have no trouble imagining that the crew knew they were going out in 2009 for this franchise: in that long span, the author’s schedule started backing up…eventually creating a 4 year gap between books.

However, we do have to consider that there is a great deal the anime seasons and movie didn’t cover.  If KyoAni wanted, they could have made this thing an even bigger cash cow.   One could argue though that the material left out is also too complex for TV.  Though, I think with the recent trend of love in odd scientific thoughts (ex – Virtue’s Last Reward using simplified Schodinger’s Cat), that would not be a problem.

So, where does this leave where I stand?  Well, I think two different problems exist: there’s an argument for both it being an artistic merit sequence and another for making it a bit of a sledgehammer for making the movie a more cathartic experience.

Artistic Merit

One major aspect of this is that KyoAni had money to burn.  By the time they even got to writing the second season of Haruhi, they had money from Full Metal Panic‘s second season, Kanon, and likely have some idea of how popular Lucky*Star was going to be.  It’s not like they couldn’t afford to be a bit eccentric.  Under this hypothesis, we would believe that they felt this show could stand a bit of an oddity and mindscrew.  Unfortunately, the reason why is pretty circular; we have to assume that KyoAni wanted to make the show artistic for the pure reasoning of making the show artistic.  Therefore, they made the show artistic.

Cathartic Experience

This, I think, is much stronger given the above arguments and points.  Here, we assume we have to built pity on Yuki and get a better understanding of her viewpoint.  In other words, the episodes were intentionally planned to fatigue viewers and make them think “oh god, when will it end?”.  This seems almost self inflicted in pain as that means reviews, and therefore sales of product, drops.  Yet, we have to remember that the fans KNEW there had to be the Disappearance Arc somewhere.  And as soon as the last episode in the re-airing ended, a teaser appeared for the movie.  So it seems likely to me that the movie was always meant as part of the package of the second season.

It also seems to me that it was intended to be the grand finale for KyoAni’s work on the Haruhi franchise.  Again, KyoAni rarely seems to like picking up the pen years later.  They completely ignore some arcs in the story which I feel would actually make suitable TV now.  And, heck, I know they know they likely couldn’t top that.

Anyways, thoughts on this are greatly appreciated.  This is one of the most unusual and unprecedented moved in anime, so whatever thoughts you may have, fire away.  It’s an interesting subject to say the least.

Where is the Sports Anime East of the Pacific?

Exams are over and I’m officially a graduate.  It’s time for me to put more work into this website.

So, I’ve always been wondering about this.  Captain Tsubasa, probably the single most iconic sports anime I can name, has been the inspiration of many football players, such as Lionel Messi and Alessandro Del Piero.  There are a large number of quality sports anime, such as Slam Dunk have been some pretty big followings.  Add in the growth of anime in North America to the mix and you’d think some of these shows would really take off.  Heck, Eyeshield 21 is a sports anime about gridiron football.  The show was fairly popular, getting 145 episodes and manga generating 20 million in sales.  Yet despite the United States of America being the only country on earth which has its most popular sport being gridiron football, it never took off.  All it got was an interrupted release via streaming and quietly released DVDs.  And I know hindsight is 20/20, but I must disagree with AnimeNation’s old news blog post that sports anime are simply not aware of the genre.  10 years and still extremely limited penetration into the market means something is up.

What gives?

Guest writer for another blog (Robert’s Anime Corner), Jerry Campbell, highlights a few aspects.  I’m not sure I agree with them, but I’ve summarized them below:

  • Emphasis on the individual in North America.  He points to American emphasis on quarterbacks and star players getting attention whereas the Japanese culture tends to direct towards emphasis on team effort.
  • The characters reflect self-repression as oppose to celebration of self ability and persistence.  The do not sell well in North America.
  • The anime are fairly cookie cutter.  There is little deviance in a formula that doesn’t sell in North America.

I think some good points are mentioned here.  Sports anime are fairly similar.  Stock characters are quite often used.  That being said, I would imagine it’s not impossible for unique characters to intersect with sports.  But I certainly agree that they are standard use due to limited audiences for the most famous examples.  And my beliefs on Japanese culture are pretty similar in terms of difference to North American culture.

The biggest disagreement I probably have is with the statement that stories about suppression of self for the good of the team do not sell effectively.  One of the most famous books about gridiron football (and often the first one listed if you talk about the sport in narrative) is Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream.  It has received many accolades and was written in as #4 on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 sports books list.  This story is anything but about the stars and is entirely of suppression.  Of self for a fleeting glory.  Do yourself a favour and read the book if you’re interested.  It really seems the movie doesn’t really recapture this in its entirety.

What is the main in my mind then?

Association of Anime and Mange with “Nerdom” in North America

I find this is a pretty big one.  For those in North America, give me some characteristics of your run-of-the-mill anime or manga fan.  Go ahead.  I’m betting the vast majority picked either children, non-social individuals, or general nerds.  I admit, I’m in the last one myself.  I enjoy sports (ice and field hockey…despite them being different things entirely), but also play card games, know how to play a few tabletop RPGs, and know way more than I ever should on quite a few video games.

This isn’t really true in Japan.  There were a few Prime Ministers which have had professed love of anime and manga.  Taro Aso, PM from 2008 to 2009, was the most famous.  I’ll let you search the results up yourself.  At any rate, I think the connotations between manga and anime in Japan and North America, as the two most prominent examples, are different.  While there is a growing “shut in” culture being tied to deeper Japanese anime fans, it’s perfectly acceptable and seemingly fine to be a fan, even if you’re in a high role such as a leading politician.  Kind of similar to how few Americans aren’t really concerned with their president Barrack Obama being comfortable quoting Star Trek and Superman.

This would be no different for sports anime.  And the major problem, under this theory, is that this culture contrasts with the typical “sports culture”.  The typical stereotypes of a sports fan (“jock”) and those of the above activities (“nerd”) are wholly different.  There’s a great reason why TVtropes can get away with using “Game of Nerds” as its trope to describe Hollywood’s portrayal of nerds and sports.  Because these two contrast so greatly, it’s rare that sports anime succeed in the current North American anime market because they just don’t appeal to what the average fan thinks about.

But of course, the demographic of anime fans are changing.  Much like older video game fans, I think there are starting to become waves of older anime fans who will have a more varied set of interests.  And if that happens, there may be enough to encourage the sports anime to come over.

Or maybe I’ll be like the AnimeNation blog and will be disproved a few years down the road.

Cultural Influences on Anime Preferences

Okay, so I’m really lazy when it gets to posting.

I think this topic is pretty self-evident, but let’s start with a basic rundown:  Let’s say you’re in North America, watching your favourite show.  Suddenly you get the great idea to start discussion the show with the faceless mass of the internet.  You post your thoughts and think [x] is “oh so cool”.  You got to bed, smiling and thinking that your opinion will be a lovefest for the character.  But, oh my.  The next morning you see, as is common on the internet, that a flame war has broken out.  A contingent of Japanese fans are scratching their heads, wondering how the hell you can like [x].  Then a legion of other viewers come to your defence and call them idiots.

This conflict between two different cultural areas are not uncommon.  Debates like this occur in video games, movies, film, literature…virtually everything.  And this seems perfectly natural: we’re all people.  Liking characters is something that is tied to our personality…so of course there’s someone out there who doesn’t think the exact same thing as me.

But I think there’s a bit more to it than that.  I think the culture of our upbringing will influence what character or actions we agree with.  I’m a mecha fan, so I’ll generally go to the mecha anime first.  And here I’ll select one of the most divisive mecha characters I know: Kira Yamato of Gundam SEED.

I predict this will go well...

Why bring him up specifically?  Well, Kira I find is one of the strongest examples of this cultural division.  In Japan, he’s extremely well thought of.  Many years after Gundam SEED Destiny, the sequel to his first appearance, a popularity poll was conducted.  And Kira was extremely high up.  Actually he ended up #3 for male leads.  And the #1 and #2 spots are iconic characters of the franchise.  By comparison, Kira is pretty heavily reviled.  Destiny is considered and extremely base breaking anime on either side, but it had the (in)famous reputation of being the “worst Gundam ever” for a while on North America dominated sections of the internet and Kira’s ability to absorb the entire show and make it about himself too front and centre.  It’s not hard to find articles which rag on him.  Actually, it’s much easier to remember him by his nickname of “Jesus Yamato” by English-speaking fans.  Seriously, look that up on Google.  You can find old forum wounds about this character.  Actually, it’s more of a hateful conversation, since it does seem to be mostly by cultural lines.  This sort of division isn’t uncommon either.  Emil Castagnier (of the video game Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World) gets very similar treatment.

So I’ve mentioned before that I think this is due to culture.  The trend seems to be along these lines:

  • Male characters which show more feminine aspects (common are: crying or having a more feminine shape) are generally seen in a poorer light in the North American audiences (I will keep using the term North American as I’m not sure of the European trends as much) compared to Japanese audiences.
  • Conversely, North American audiences greatly support characters which show the exact opposite.  In this effect, a male character who shows hypermasculity, or whatever you want to call it as that term tends to come with negative connotations, get the a-ok.
  • Similar trends occur with female characters.  Tsundere archetype characters and other characters which fall more on the “assertive, spirited” side of things are more popular with North American audiences while the more demure characters which fall in line with the yamato nadeshiko archetype gets more support in Japan.  It’s almost the exact opposite; the more assertive female characters seem to be popular in North America.

These trends can be seen fairly easily through popular anime.  Kira is a solid example of the male trends.  A commonly stated case for the female characters is Asuka Langley Soryu (Neon Genesis Evangelion).  In Japan, the popularity of Rei is often akin to that of anime’s leading sex symbol.  At least, at the time.  She easily swept the most popular characters slot and held at top spot for quite a while.  It took nobody else but the iconic Lina Inverse to unseat her (amusingly, another character voiced by Megumi Hayashibara.  Though I guess that really shouldn’t be unexpected given her massive portfolio).  On the other hand, and I can’t prove this with any links like the above…I did a search of 5 polls with 100+ rankings and with voter base of primarily USA citizens, I found Asuka dominated the polls for North Americans, being the most popular (often by a 25% popularity to the next most popular being at 15%.

Where exactly does this come from?  That’s a good question.  I did a little research on more general cultural differences and some are more useful than others, but they are all interesting insights and provide an excellent basis for understanding this popularity divide.

One of the biggest differences has always been in the way romance is handled between the Japanese culture and much of the North American culture.  How this is dealt with directly feeds into how characters are build and how the romance between different characters is initiated, engaged to viewers, and ultimately resolved.  It’s why, commonly, the female character’s actions tend to confuse the North American audiences more than they do the Japanese.  Probably one of my favourite reads for this is a blog post about romance from a North American in Japan.  It’s worth a full read.  I’ll wait.

Quite the cultural divide, isn’t it?  The lack of emphasis on initiative and instead focusing on being able to predict what the other person is thinking is very astounding.  It easily explains a lot of why character [x] and character [y] can go 40-odd episodes without ever taking a step.  It may seem odder to the North American audiences as the romance in North American culture is much more direct, but it’s simply the basis by which are more intuitive to Japanese audiences.  Passivity and emotional control is a huge takeaway as well.  The one line that got me was “Seiji told me much later that dating me made him feel like he was gay, because I was active in bed, and he couldn’t connect that with anything except masculinity”.  Strict gender roles have been well documented within the realm of romance in Japan and the interaction of romance between characters which are sometimes grating to North American audiences can be explained a bit by this difference in action/initiative.  I mean, how many times can you think of the “twice shy” scenario of characters [x] and [y] liking each other but not do anything about it?  While some may find it annoying, it follows that concept of needing to predict the other person’s opinion.

So I think this leads us to reasoning out why female characters with a more demure presence are more popular in Japan: it’s because, simply put, they conform to the Japanese norms more.

But this doesn’t explain everything.  The ideal male norm in Japan is also one of control.  But this conflicts with the culturally favoured characters.  I think we need to take a more general step backwards and consider the culture in terms of acceptable behaviour.  The Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences released a paper in 2009 expressing the differences between Canada, USA, and Japan, in terms of what the subjects considered appropriate emotional reaction.  I’ve copied the important results for this discussion below:

The results indicate that Japanese display rules permit the expression of powerful (anger, contempt, and disgust) significantly less than those of the two North American samples. Japanese also think that they should express positive emotions (happiness, surprise) significantly less than the Canadian sample.

This really goes to the heart of why popular male Japanese characters act so differently in my opinion; the cultural definition of a character comfortable with himself I find is one willing to act against cultural norms.  I mean, the most popular character is rarely the rule abiding person who doesn’t stand out from a crowd, right?  James Dean portrayed that perfectly in Rebel Without a Cause.  At least most of the time this seems to hold true.  However, in Japan, the cultural breaking, so to speak, would be to express more emotionally.

The oddity here is that I’m applying different rules to different reasons.  It almost seems like a “well, it fits” type of approach.  I think one of the big differences here is that one directly works with the area of romance and ideal femininity more and the other is how the character interacts with society.  I think a bit of the old standby of the areas of anime I focused on primarily here: I spoke mostly about shows which are meant to appeal to the male audience.  I do suspect that if we talk about shows which appeal to female audiences, the roles would reverse.  In other words, in a show designed for female audiences, the female character who breaks the rules more will be considered ideal and the male character who follows them more are more ideal.  For example, in video games the most popular female characters for female players in North America include the more stoic Samus Aran and Commander Sheppard.

My predictions, of course, comes down to desired partners.  The old concept of escapism stands out for me; people like to explore characters and escape what they see day-to-day.  By having a bit of a rule breaker, you get to see things that stand out from what you know.

So, what does that mean?  I think I can summarize my opinions as such:
The target audience will want to be someone who breaks the cultural standards and will enjoy characters of the opposite sex which are in line with the standards.  In Japan, the standard is to have more controlled emotions and in North America,

Of course, this is all being written at 1 AM…so I’m sure I’ve missed stuff.