This entry concerns a relatively new animation phenomenon to the United States – anime. Anime is an abbreviated Japanese pronunciation of the word “animation.” The rest of the world regards anime as Japanese animation. Anime origins have been traced to 1917 in Japan with many original Japanese cartoons produced in the ensuing decades; but the characteristic anime style of today was first developed in the 1960s in Japan, and started to become known outside of Japan in the 1980s.
Anime in Japan can be seen as the rough equivalent animated films in the United States. Ten years ago, I am sure that most people either never heard of anime; or if they did, they basically thought of something developed in Japan by Japanese creators for Japanese consumers. However, times are changing. Anime is becoming more internationalized, as a more western (primarily American) influence works its way into the Japanese creative community, and the Japanese, in turn influence the up-and-coming American anime artists.
Before I discovered anime, I was a child of Fox, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney – with a strong classical influence from Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera. My formative years were spent with Bart, SpongeBob, and a trio of friends called Ed, Edd and Eddy. My understanding of basic physics came from Professor Wyle E. Coyote, and my future parenting skills from a man called Homer. Disney gave me the unforgettable mix of Hollywood spectacle, choreography and music; and also taught me about the value of marketing, and how to enjoy a theme park or two. But anime brought to me a whole new set of style, script, color palette, sound effects and cultural perspective.
My introduction to anime was over 10 years ago with the Pokémon series. From there I expanded to Yu-Gi-Oh, with its United States multi-media blitz of television, video games, films, collector card game, and manga (graphic novels). Yu-Gi-Oh allowed me to springboard into true Japanese anime.
Japanese anime, and its Western/American counterpart, has a number of discriminators from other animation mediums. These include: A strong style and color choices; more focus on acting as opposed to dialogue; timeless story themes and social commentary.
As far as strong style and color choices, anime style is beautiful to watch. It has a sense of poetry, it has a rhythm – as much art as entertainment. Even with the volume down, or the story in Japanese (of which I have no understanding), you can still appreciate the story, the motion and graphic splendor. Whether the anime story is one of whimsy or a science fiction battle or an anime vampire movie, I love to see how the art and the use of bold colors embrace, enhance and complements the story.
The concept of “less is more” can be applied to anime. Standard western films rely significantly on the use of a lot of dialogue in scripts; whereas in traditional anime will “show the story” rather than “tell the story”. The visual effects concentrate equally on the characters and their surroundings. Anime uses eyes, hair and clothing, as well as the weather or environment to express emotion in a scene – as can be seen in the below example.
The timeless nature of the anime story theme is not merely the standard good versus evil conflict, but rather the deeper conflicts that arise in differing beliefs or points of view. Anime scripts have a tendency to reveal visually more information on a character’s background which then gives the audience a more meaningful understanding of that character’s personal struggles. In many instances the audience will feel a reflection of that conflict within themselves.
Social commentary plays a significant role in anime. Traditionally, these stories show writing has had a slant regarding the negative outcomes of technology outpacing cultural or social development. The fact that anime has such a growing following in America and other parts of the world at large suggests an importance of this commentary. In one such film – Princess Mononoke,, the conflict between the old traditions of agriculture and the holistic beliefs pitted against the progress of Iron Age technology has meaning to many in today world. Anime stories traditionally expose and question the concepts of progress, commerce, loyalty, and honor.
With regard to the present and future of anime, the past decade has witnessed the increased acceptance of anime globally. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away shared the first prize at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Oshii’s Innocence: Ghost in the Shell was featured at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. I believe that as long as there is an appreciation for anime, the form will continue grow and develop. There is a sense of craft, tradition and pride in this visual story telling technique which is the backbone of this genre. With the continuing development of flash animation software and other animation capabilities, the creative edge is always progressing, making it accessible for the new generation of filmmakers. My only concern is the potential for oversaturation of the market with lesser quality anime products that may turn the audience away. The silver lining to this is that the best films seem to have a way to find their audience and become classics for many decades to come.