Anime-niacs

Million dollar effects, loud explosions to rock the sound system, big sweeping cinematography during fight scenes, beautifully framed shots, costume design by Prada, soundtrack by Oakenfold, hot leading characters, and a gripping love story. These are all classic John

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Woo aspects known to be found in his blockbuster movies, but this movie is different, it’s anime. Yes, this movie has kick ass fight scenes, soldiers using MP5 sub machine guns, and a storyline similar to that of today’s cinema blockbusters, but it won’t be seen by the mainstream movie-goer, because it is anime. In Japan, anime is used to refer to all animation, Japanese, American, or otherwise; however, in English we use the word Anime to refer to Japanese animation.

Anime is a four billion dollar a year industry, in the U.S. alone, and is still considered a sub-culture of today’s cinema. Sadly, it’s a genre that people overlook when they are choosing movies. I can remember the anime that got me hooked, my “gateway drug” into a pop culture phenomenon, Ghost in the Shell. During my eighty-two minutes of watching this movie, the fact that it was animated never entered my mind. Ghost in the Shell rolls philosophy and technology into one. The main character in this movie deals with finding her identity, and this was something I could relate to, as a woman in my 20s. The main antagonist in GITS tells our leading lady, “Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you,” and this I found to be a profound issue in today’s society. People are often afraid of change and growth. Anime isn’t afraid to grace subjects like society, growth, politics, and sex. This is very different than the feel good subjects of American cartoons. Anime can touch on these subjects, without worrying about who they might offend, because anime was never meant for American audiences. It just happened to catch on here and gain a cult following. Anime is a growing art form in the US, but in Japan it has been around for decades and deals with intellectually challenging, social, and political issues that people deal with the world over.

I know that looking at the stereo-typical anime fan has created a stigma around this genre. Hell, I was embarrassed to join my university’s anime club, because of the overabundance of otaku. Most otaku, or super fans, are seen through the eyes of the general public as a bunch of nerds dressing up as cartoon characters; however, it’s no different than the large population of gamers who converge, dressed in headgear, on Xbox Live to play with friends and strangers around the world. Taking a closer look at these “nerds” dressed in cosplay one might find a sexual appeal to rival that of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models or a Hawaiian Tropic Girls. Some of these chicks are hot! This being said, I still believe it is difficult for a large American audience to embrace anime because, as stated in Samurai from Outer Space Understanding Japanese Animation, “most American animation remains wedded to children’s entertainment . . . Heavy Metal and Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, which aired on MTV, are so far the closest America has come to mainstream adult animation.” Cartoon Network did come to the rescue, with programs geared toward an adult audience, such as Adult Swim. Still, these shows are shown primarily after midnight, and this doesn’t open a lot of watching opportunity for the working folk waking up at 6am. What I’ve learned is that there are so many themes in anime from philosophy and history to horror, love, and pornography that many people are just unaware of an untapped entertainment resource that doesn’t have to be stuck in some 3am time slot on TV.

The subject matter that is dealt with in anime is definitely different than traditional animation commonly known in the west. Disney’s bubblegum endings ie., Snow White lives, Beast gets his Beauty, Nemo doesn’t get filleted, are vastly different than the vague, unjust, and all too often never explained endings in many anime. I find it refreshing that I can watch a movie and not everyone lives happily ever after. Sometimes the hero must die, sometimes the bad guy wins. The American audiences are afraid of what anime deals with, and therefore it isn’t as widely seen as it could be; however, anime movies have been nominated for Oscars, and turned into Hollywood movies, like AstroBoy, G-Force, and Speed Racer. What happens though, when anime is made by Hollywood, is they are changed. G-Force has been changed into a bunch of fuzzy guinea pigs, instead of men and women crime fighters. Astroboy was tamed down for the Hollywood audiences by taking out the themes of prejudice and punishment by crucifixion, and often lines are changed to “tame” the mood. In Ghost in the Shell, when the main character is asked why she has so much noise in her head, by a colleague who is tapped into the net with her, she states that she must be on her period, but this line didn’t make it into the American dubbed version. Kusinagi, the main character is a cyborg, and in the Japanese version this line shows the entire theme of the movie, her sexuality and whether she can still be considered a “person” if she has a cyborg body, but in the US version that proved too hard to explain. Sensitive subjects or subjects that need to be explained are often left out of American films. It’s a sad when I watch American films and get everything spelled out for me. It feels predictable and repetitive.

When it comes to pornographic or adult themes, known as hentai, a lot of it is crazy, over the top, or fantastical, as in La Blue Girl’s tentacle scene, but there are some that would rival what is found on any internet porn site. Themes are also widely different than anything seen in western animation. Fantasy fetishes are often depicted, but Japanese attitudes toward sex are also different than those of Westerners. A large reason hentai is so widely accepted in Japanese culture is because sex in Japan is more accepted as a natural thing. On an episode of Attack of the Show, while on location in Japan, men were shown reading hentai while standing at the news-stands, without being judged or seen as vulgar. Subjects seen in the west as taboo are often used as a fantasy outlet. In my travels, as a fan of anime, I have seen countless Demotivational type photos that show a scene from a hentai flick that usually say something on it in the nature of “Hentai, because real girls won’t do that;” however, because of its unconventional themes and all too often show of non-consensual, sex hentai can, and does, hit a nerve with the squeamish.

Anime is not only geared toward adults though, and hentai is in no way appropriate for children, so there are themes in anime geared toward a younger audience, besides Pokemon, and Naruto. There are many different anime made for teenagers, because teens and young adults are the majority of fans in the U.S. My daughter loves Fruits Basket, Elfen Lied, and Full Metal Alchemist.

I believe that anime has something to teach its fans. My sister-in-law told me the other day that she doesn’t like to watch movies that she has to read. This woman is 30 years old! When I was done cringing, I thought about today’s young fans, the ones that are considered the otaku. Not only do they prefer to watch anime in subtitled form, to keep the integrity of the movie, but some believe that watching the original Japanese un-subtitled version and translating it themselves creates a better experience. (Often words will be changed when the anime is dubbed into English, changing the mood, and adding things like cuss words, which are usually not spoken in Japanese anime.) I was a teacher at the local library, on the subject of anime and manga, and I found that my teenage students find an opening in an otherwise closed off world by watching, drawing, and learning about this art form and the culture behind it. They are also getting social interaction. Unfortunately, I also found a brick wall attempting to show the parents that there is nothing wrong with anime. Strong Christian values and being afraid of the unknown have kept some of my students at home during anime club, because their parents think it’s a waste of time, and if it’s not of God, it’s of the devil. These bright and talented teens are missing out on being a part of a peer group, because anime is often misunderstood.

To open anime up to a broader western audience, more and more mainstream Hollywood names are directing, producing, and writing anime movies in Japan. These movies are not being made by Hollywood, but are appealing to big names in Hollywood, who are traveling across the world to be a part of something different. Also, new and old Hollywood blockbusters are getting their ideas from classic anime (watch The Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic and compare it to Ghost in the Shell). The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell have so many similarities, that you can see frame for frame identical scenes. Millions of dollars are being spent on CG special effects in Hollywood movies, and a watcher can find the same great special effect explosions and stunts in anime, the difference being, they don’t cost nearly as much for the anime version. These similarities will hopefully create an appeal to the audience that watches today’s action packed films. I wish I knew how to bring these points to light for people who won’t give anime a chance. I know that movies and television shows like Pokemon, Power Rangers, and Naruto do not appeal to an adult audience, unless it’s something that a watcher was exposed to in their youth, but there are so many movies that should be given a chance by an adult audience. Ghost in the Shell, Macross Plus, Appleseed Ex Machina, these are just a few titles that I would screen at a large movie theater if given a chance. Movies based on American graphic novels, like Sin City, make billions of dollars in American theaters, but similar storylines are brushed aside because they’re animated. Just as graphic novels do not equal the Sunday funnies, anime does not equal cartoons.

I’m thankful to people making Hollywood versions of a well known anime, like Akira (which has been an on again off again project) and to Disney, who works directly with Studio Ghibli. This is hopefully going to give fans an excuse to find out more, and means that you no longer have to be a closeted anime fan. You can now just walk into, or log onto, a mainstream video rental retailers, like Blockbuster, Netflix, or Hastings, and the large anime sections are creating an “out” for those who kept their anime stashed on the shelf behind Fight Club and Call of Duty.

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