This week’s blog has more direction than last weeks and of course is on time once again. I shall also be delving back into the realm of film and cinema and away from the press and general media; however the form of film in discussion this week may not be what you would expect. Surely what could I be talking about I hear you ask…. it is the realm of anime.
Anime is of course the very popular animation originating from Japan. It often holds connotations of being a nerdy form of media, with stereotypes of thirty/forty something’s still living at home in their parents’ basement watching anime and playing xbox live through into the early hours of the morning whilst trolling the internet and signing up to dating agencies even though they have never spoken to a women who isn’t a relative in their life. And I digress with painting this very detailed image. The fact of the matter is simply that anime is far more popular and less geek culture based than people realise. In Japan anime and subsequently manga (manga is the comic book, anime the animation) are compared to everyday cartoons that kids and even adults (don’t try and pretend you don’t like watching Saturday morning cartoons if you’re up early enough for them) watch. A lot of the time animes are based on successful manga series so that the producers know that it’ll be successful due to its already established fan base, much like the Batman films, or any comic book film for that matter.
There is however a major difference between feature anime films and general Western animation, and I’m not talking about the style (which I shall go into later). It’s the content and themes. Often anime is based in the fantasy genre, however this can completely vary. Nonetheless the themes are often more adult based and tackle situations surrounding life and death in a more complex manner. Studio Ghibli is the most well known anime production company around the world, often compared to Disney. I personally believe that they produce better films than Disney’s animation. Don’t get me wrong I grew up on ‘The Lion King’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Beauty & The Beast’ and ‘Mulan’, but all the films are the same, they follow the same narrative conventions and all seem to personify animals some how. Where as Ghibli’s productions in ‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Laputa: Castle In The Sky’, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ‘Nausicaa: The Valley Of The Wind’, ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. All of these films are epic adventures, at times blending a steam-punk theme of magic and exploration styled technology (before the steam-punk style even started off). All of the themes often relate back to Japanese traditions or folk law, such as the bathhouse which Chihiro works in during ‘Spirited Away’. A strong theme of nature is also present within their films: ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Laputa’ both deal with the battle between machines and nature.
Moving away from the fantasy driven films, there is still more adult based driven films such as ‘Grave Of The Fireflies’, which deals with children whose parents died during the bombings in Japan during World War 2. They have nobody to turn to and live on the streets trying to fend for themselves. It ultimately has an unbelievably dark and upsetting ending, something which Disney would certainly never touch in animation form. ‘Metropolis’, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ and ‘Akira’ delve into the doom of technology and it’s destructive power. Which leads me quite nicely onto discussing the style of anime. It is often far more graphic, certainly with violence and blood than other forms of animation, so when someone gets shot in ‘Ghost In The Shell’ their body practically explodes due to the high velocity bullets; again I highly doubt that Disney would show anything other than a slow expansion of blood on the victims shirt if someone is ever shot.
The anime style is one which is mimicked a lot within Western culture, however a lot of people disregard this. There is of course an anime based scene in ‘Kill Bill’, the ‘Animatrix’ composes half a dozen shorts surrounding ‘The Matrix’ all in varying anime styles, the Linkin Park music video for ‘Breaking The Habit’ was composed entirely from anime style animation; to name but a few. The style is highly distinctive with the largely spikey hair, huge eyes and often triangular jaw. However other styles have formed which create an image more sketch like such as the ‘Kid’s Story’ segment of the ‘Animatrix’ or the ‘Death Note’ series.
Of course there is always the sexually graphic anime also known as Hentai. This however is a field to which I don’t have any experience or expertise in except for why it’s so popular in Japan. From my understanding Japan doesn’t necessarily agree with pornography. They therefore encourage teenagers to look at Hentai rather than real porn as it’s restricted in the content it can show. It also has the underlying factor that these kids realise that Hentai isn’t real;
it’s simply something to get them off, where as a lot of kids in the West these days are having warped views on sex and women due to the porn they are watching because they believe it to be real.
So I suppose I should end it there, finishing on the high of Hentai. Either way I hope that from reading this you can go away and respect anime more as a filmmaking form, much like you undoubtedly would for any production which Disney or Pixar have made. So expand your mind and watch some anime.