Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anime: Not just Saturday morning cartoons

Lupin III characters1.) True or False: All animated films and TV shows, regardless of the subject matter, are intended for children by virtue of the fact that they are animated.

2.) True or False: All books, regardless of the subject matter, are intended for children by virtue of the fact that their content is printed on paper.

Hopefully I've made my point: judging the content of a work by its medium is foolish. Still, I'd bet $1000 of Alex's money that the majority of Americans are predisposed to thinking that anything animated is probably kid stuff.

Those who aren't so predisposed are probably familiar with the likes of South Park, Family Guy, or even Spawn, but (as far as I can tell) most not-for-children animated shows in America are comedies and could still be considered by some to be childish, which is close enough.

That's why we're looking to Japan to illustrate that animation is an art form and a vehicle for storytelling, and not necessarily just kiddie stuff.

Japanese animation, or anime, is known for its diversity, both in terms of content and audience.

Do you like huge robots beating the robo-snot out of each other? There are oodles of anime series out there for you.

Do you like big swords and gory fight scenes? There's some for you, as well.

Do you like light and fluffy comedies about average teenagers? There's plenty to go around.

How about psychological thrillers? Mysteries? Romantic dramas? Bounty hunters? Ninjas? Pirates? Furry animals that turn into spaceships? Anime's got you covered.

There really is something for everyone, from the young'uns who are looking for some good, clean fun, to the extreme opposites who are unsatisfied by anything less than utterly detestable language, reckless drug use, brutal violence, and rampant sex.

That being said, concerned parents and sensitive individuals would do well to seek out content advisory warnings and plot summaries before watching or purchasing a particular anime.

The following are my favorite sites for looking up anime plot summaries and content advisories:

Akemi's Anime World: http://animeworld.com/
Anime News Network: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/
AnimeNfo: http://www.animenfo.com/

Of course, it would be helpful to have a few things to look up. That's why, with the help of some of my friends, I've compiled a short list of movies and shows that are accessible to first-time anime watchers. These are sorted by genre, but many of them fall under several categories:

- Action: Black Lagoon, Blue Seed, Read Or Die, Trigun
- Comedy: Azumanga Daioh!, Lupin III, Ranma 1/2
- Duel: Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!
- Family-Friendly: Doraemon, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro
- Fighting: Dragon Ball Z, Naruto
- Historical: Peacemaker Kurogane, Rose of Versailles
- Horror/Violent/Disturbing: Akira, Perfect Blue, Witch Hunter Robin
Little Bit of Everything: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
- Magical Girl: Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon
- Mecha (giant robots): Fafner, Gundam SEED, RahXephon
- Ordinary person in extraordinary situations: Escaflowne, Fruits Basket, Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
- Romance: Air, Paradise Kiss
- Slice of Life: Haibane Renmei, Honey and Clover, Tokyo Godfathers
- Space: Captain Herlock, Cowboy Bebop, Tenchi Muyo!
- Sports: Major, Speed Racer
- Steampunk: Steamboy, Fullmetal Alchemist
- Vampire: Blood+, Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D

Believe me, that is a short list, and by no means absolute. I guarantee you somebody's gonna come along and say, "Hey! You forgot about _________! You fool!!!" Yes, I know I'm omitting several groundbreaking and popular animes.

Yet, somehow, I can still sleep at night.

Also note that some of the names on the list are franchises and not just a single movie or series, so while you're investigating plot summaries and content advisories on the aforementioned sites, check to make sure that you're watching things in the right order. In future posts I hope to provide you with more details on several of these animes, including viewing order, but there's simply not enough space here.

Now, before you go off and watch some of these, let me give you a heads-up or two or five about getting into anime.

First, a note about finding anime: You local library is likely to have at least one or two mainstream anime movies (most likely by Hayao Miyazaki), and college libraries are especially good for finding anime.

Unless you've got a friend with an anime collection or a TV station that's playing one of the more mainstream series (which has been known to happen), you will most likely need to buy your anime, rent it, or order it on-demand. Fortunately, the Internet has lots of anime, and any store where you can buy DVDs probably has at least a small collection of anime, if not several shelves.

Second, unless you're fluent in Japanese, there are two ways to watch anime: in the original Japanese with subtitles, or dubbed into English.

This is really a matter of personal preference, but I would encourage you to watch anime in Japanese with subtitles to get as authentic an experience as possible, unless you've heard that the English dub is amazing and has a character voiced by Patrick Stewart, Gillian Anderson, etc. or unless you feel about subtitles the way vegetarians must feel about Turducken.

Third, like any other medium, anime comes in a variety of styles, so try not to let your initial impressions shape your expectations of future animes. Don't assume that any one anime is going to look like any other.

Joining us now to help illustrate this are images from Hellsing, Crayon Shin-Chan, Lucky Star, and Steamboy, respectively.

Crayon Shin Chan
Lucky Star

Fourth, an alarming number of animes just don't make sense. Every once in a while this is a translation issue. On occasion, this is due to the series making a number of Japanese cultural references that elude the uninformed (which is why you should make sure that the version of Azumanga Daioh! you buy has liner notes).

More often, though, you'll be following along just fine until the last few episodes, when WHAM!, all of a sudden it's like you've missed an entire season.

This happens for a few different reasons. Sometimes the creators ran out of budget and had to force an ending they really weren't intending. Sometimes you need to go back and re-watch the series (and probably consult Internet fansites dedicated to the series) to make sense of everything. Sometimes it's necessary to read the manga (essentially, Japanese graphic novels) on which the series is based in order to fill in the gaps.

And, sometimes, it really just doesn't make any sense. Period.

Fifth, and lastly, if one of your friends is really pushing for you to watch a particular movie or show and promises "oh, you'll love it," then it's probably hentai or yaoi, and if you're gullible enough to follow along with them, then you get what you deserve.

You can trust Penny Arcade on this one. (Language alert.)

...Oh, and the answer to both 1 and 2 was false.

[Lupin III image from randomlondonthoughts.blogspot.com. Hellsing image from lifewithgideon.blogspot.com. Crayon Shin-Chan image from www.cartoon-secrets.com. Lucky Star image from muryou-anime-wallpaper.net. Steamboy image from waili85.multiply.com/journal.]


Scott said...

One thing to note about buying anime on DVD is that it's usually terribly expensive -- you'd be much better off paying for something like, say, NetFlix.

People always complain about DVD prices in America, but then Japanese people pay 60 bucks for two episodes and don't bat an eyelash. >.>

Another thing about buying anime on DVD -- if you're buying online, make sure you're buying from a legitimate retailer as opposed to a random eBay auction or "superawesomecheapdiscountDVDs.com". There are plenty (tons [and billions]) of bootlegged and otherwise illegal anime DVDs floating around out there, generally of Chinese manufacture. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it's advertised as being a "value pack" with 12 episodes on one disc, then it's definitely a bootleg. Companies generally do not put more than four episodes on a disc.

Another telltale is if you're buying DVDs of shows/seasons that are currently airing (they don't get to America /that/ quickly) or are unreleased in the US but somehow have English subtitles.

Finally, watch for that dreaded "region-free" tag. While DVDs are region-coded, legit DVDs will be made in your region -- if you're in the US, that would be region 1. Region-free DVDs are almost always bootlegged or otherwise illegal Chinese productions.

What do you have to risk, other than your hard-earned cash? Well, you would be missing out on production values, receiving lower-than-DVD-quality video, strange translations, or simply fan-made translations ("fansubs") downloaded from the internet and burnt to DVD.

Fansubs are illegal as well, but would you really want to be paying your hard-earned cash for DVDs of something that's available from the source for free?

So examine what you're getting before you buy it. I know more than a few people who've bought bootleg DVDs without realizing it -- and have been completely happy with them, accepting the weird subtitles as "one of those oddities that come with Japanese cartoons". Get the real thing if you get anything.

Flashman85 said...

Thanks for the input, kind panda! Just about all of the anime I've ever watched has belonged to somebody else, so this is an area I have yet to really deal with. Good things to know.

Scott said...

Oh, one (two?) more comments... Steamboy would accurately be filed under "steampunk", along with FMA and probably Trigun. If you want more historical, Gankutsuou, which was based on The Count of Monte Cristo, should fit there nicely.