It took long enough, but animation is just about everywhere you, and (among younger generations at least), is immensely popular. Many have long looked with envy at Japan with its ubiquitous anime and pined for a similar scenario in western markets. Their prayers may have been answered, but the reality is far from expectations. Animation has become a commodity, and with that it has lost its special place in the minds of consumers and fans alike. The question is, what happens now, and where does the industry go from here?
If we’re being honest, even I wouldn’t have believed that headline if it was written even six months ago. Clearly being only vaguely aware of who Hatsune Miku is wasn’t enough and it took a proper introduction before I ‘got’ her. Of course there’s a lot of appeal to the character of Miku herself, and that forms the basis for many young fans’ devotion. That’s not what makes her appealing to me though; it’s the concept and execution of the character’s role, and what she represents from a business standpoint. To put it simply: she’s the future.
Animation is a cultural thing, and like anything related to culture, there is national delineations and boundaries. For example, American animation is very, well, American. Canadaian animation is distinctly Canadian. Irish animation probably isn’t really coming from anywhere other than Ireland. And so on. However, the country of an animation’s origin is not the be all and end all of what it means to be animated.
Sprung upon the (non-Japanese) world last week was a series of lingerie based on the Disney Princess brand. Yet here in the west, a bit of a burhaha unfolded as people discussed the merits and demerits of such merchandise. In the midst of it all, people forgot that they might not be so weird, or so bad after all.
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.