Anime And Me (Or Anime And I For All The Grammar Police Out There)

Anime. It’s one of those things, you either love it or you hate it, for the most part that is. Unlike the Philly Cheesteak place in Mechanicsburg, PA, where there is no middle ground; you either leave bursting at the seams or still wanting more, anime does have its casual fans. On the other hand, anime seems to have its fair share of fans and detractors alike. As for myself, I don’t love it to death but I don’t exactly hate it either.

For the longest time, my only exposure to the medium was Pokemon and the like. No joke, there’s not a lot of otaku (fans of anime, among other things Japanese) in Ireland, or at least not back in the day when I was growing up. It was only once I moved to the US the first time that I discovered (not entirely by accident I must admit) Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I will freely admit that this is still the only anime show I have on DVD (unless you count one disc of FullMetal Alchemist episodes). It is by far my favourite for reasons I am still not absolutely sure about. It may be the characters who continually collide and explode (or implode as the series progresses) or the overall story arc, I don’t know. What I do know is that I was willing to cough up $50 for the boxset plus the End of Evangelion and I’ve never regretted it.

Fans of western animation sometimes tend to deride or sneer at anime. This happens in reverse as well I should point out. No one form of animation is perfect, despite what Pixar would have you believe. Indeed there is much debate about just what is “anime” exactly. Some consider it any animation to come from Japan, others consider it a more specific form of Japanese animation. I’m going to be lazy for right now and send you to Wikipedia, who is just as vague as you can get on the subject. I intend to post about the origins/differences in a later post anyway.

Anime in general suffers from budgets that would make most Western animators weep for days on end. That’s why they make so much use of recurring backgrounds, limited animation (to the point of using only two or three positions for the mouth, and often having that the only moving thing on the screen) and action scenes that are as generic as you can get. Imagine what the great John K. would say? Actually, not a lot. he has a grand total of three blog posts on the subject. Here’s a quote I couldn’t resist sharing:

A decade after I worked on shows like the Transformers and being ashamed of it, young Spumco artists in the late 90s would come up to me in awe and recite whole storylines about how Gangamons beat up Rotundabeast with his triple tread whitewall tires while his half-human, half-koala girlfriend chewed eucalyptus paste in delight and bore him 17 new Astroboys and girls – all with spiky hair as a reward.

Priceless stuff. Anyway, my opinion towards the medium is that it is certainly no better or worse than western stuff. There were plenty of horrendous cartoons put out for years (decades?) before things got funkier in the 90s. Granted, they were on a scale that doesn’t even come close to something like Pokemon, which has an episode count of well into the thousands at this point, but the quality was much the same.

As for the actual types of shows? Personally, I seem to be able to enjoy something as sugary as Paniponi Dash just as easily as Akira. Arguably, Japan seems to have been able to maintain a sizeable market in serious (i.e. non-comedic) animation. Such a market was sadly lost in the US a long time ago (even with the best efforts of Ralp Bakshi in the 70s).

I don’t watch anime on a regular basis (too cheap to pay for cable) but I do watch it if I find it one somewhere (airplanes, bored, etc.) and I still enjoy it. I guess in a way it’s my guilty secret, even though it’s not really guilty and it’s not really a secret. I did actually attend an anime club on a few occasions. It was fun, and I will say that I really do prefer anime fans to Twilight ones (ughhhh, just typing that gave me the shivers).

As for the genres of anime? Well they’re far more varied than in the west that’s for sure. You can have your pick of action, sci-fi, romance, comedy and even magical girls! Sure, there is some repetition among them, but it’s no worse than an American TV show where the whole family goes camping and calamity ensues when Dad tries to put up the tent or find “natural” food.

A lot of anime also get the feature-length treatment. It’s important to draw a line of distinction between anime TV films (and OVAs) and actual films though. I deeply love the work of Hayao Miyazaki, to infer that his films are on the same level as something like Escaflowne is something that just can’t be done.

We should not have contempt for anime. Sure, the fans can be annoying, the non-synching mouths can be distracting and the percentage of recycled material would make Al Gore proud. But I can’t help but think that even the most die-hard Western animation fan would have to admit that it has made a significant impact on animation here over the last 30 years. If you look past its shortcomings, it can be really rewarding entertainment.

Anomaly Appraisal: Tales from Earthsea

I read the announcement a few days ago over on Cartoon Brew but having bought the DVD back in 2008, it doesn’t matter that much to me. Having said that, I’d thought I’d post my thoughts on a movie that while from the venerable Studio Ghibli, is not by it’s most famous director but rather his son, Goro.

The movie is based on the series of books by Ursula K. LeGuin but differs substantially from the original material. The protagonist is Arren, a young lad who has run away from home after murdering his father, who just happens to be the king. He meets a wizard by the name of Sparrowhawk who saves him from a pack of wolves. Arren follows Sparrowhawk into a bustling city, where he rescues a young girl named Tehru from a bunch of tough guys rounding up people and forcing them into slavery.

The story takes an interesting turn with the entrance of Lord Cob, an apparently powerful wizard who is in search of the source of eternal life. Strange things begin to happen to Arren and eventually, it is up to Sparrowhawk to help rescue him, along with Tehru.

The film is vastly different from those we have come to know and love from Hayao. The plot is more complex and at times bizarre. There are many subplots presented that the viewer must contemplate while watching the film. Not that any of this detracts from it, not in the least. If anything it rewards the viewer in a different way than Hayao’s works. The plot does tend to wander though, and I suspect that about 15 minutes could have easily been removed from the film in numerous places to stop it feeling as long as it does.

The characters are not as easy to sympathize with as you would expect, Arren is, after all, a murderer. He is somewhat flat, as are the rest of the cast, but that is a minor quibble. The voice-acting talents of Timothy Dalton and Willem DaFoe (in a very quirky role, even for him) help make up the difference.

The animation is superb, with detailed backgrounds, dramatic cities and foreboding castles. The character design is recognizably Ghibli but perhaps on a slightly more muted level. The use of digital enhancements does not hinder the enjoyment of the film.

Is it a film worth seeing? Well, that really does depend. If you go into this film expecting a carbon copy of Hayao you will be bitterly disappointed. It is not near the same. Instead, embrace it as the different movie that it is. If you can get past the hurdles of a twisty plot and pedestrian pacing, you will be rewarded by a surprising ending. Personally, it took me two viewings before I could say I enjoyed it.

Below is the trailor for your viewing pleasure: