When most people think of anime, they often envision some angry person screaming ‘HADOKEN!’ or dismiss the whole genre as either ‘merely cartoons’, childish or simply a collection of tentacle porn. These misconceptions have led many in the West to look down on the genre and view those who enjoy it as members of an odd sub-culture.
Anime is thrown in alongside LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), Dungeons & Dragons and video games as typical nerd fare and therefore somehow too foreign to be enjoyed my the general populace. While anime, especially in the West has found support and a growing fan base in the ‘nerd world’ (as witnessed by the increasing anime presence in both booths and fans at Comic-Con, Dragon-Con etc.), it is widely popular and accepted in Japan.
Many young people enjoy watching anime or reading the manga (comic book form read right to left), with said books routinely selling out, with many copies being purchased by older fans. A common sight on Japanese subways is to see your seemingly typical businessman reading a manga novel. I wanted to write this article to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding anime, and offer information to those interested or perhaps unfamiliar with the genre.
1. Anime is not porn: While their exists a sub-category of animated pornography (thanks Rule 34) called Hentai (literally translated from Japanese as pervert/ed) – one should be careful to distinguish the two. Some people might be confused since many anime series do play off sexual innuendo and risque situations as part of the humour, hentai entails material which has titillation as its main goal and is explicitly pornographic. It would be same as assuming that every Hollywood movie that has a sex scene or shows some boobage is pornographic.
2. Anime is not Just for Children: As already mentioned, a wide range of sub-genres and types of series and movies exist which offer a wide range of material, with shows targeted towards different age groups, interests and genders. You have some shows which never show any violence, and then there are those which frequently show dismemberment and blood – depending on the storyline and the recommended audience. Again I make the analogy that thinking anime is all for children makes the same mistake as assuming Mickey Mouse, Dora, Cyanide and Happiness and Aqua Teen Hunger Force all belong in the same category merely because they are all cartoons.
3. Anime is not Just Pokemon: Many people’s only interaction with anime is through the few shows which managed to become popular in the West during the 1990s. While cartoons are beginning to branch into older demographics in the West, for the longest time cartoons and animated features were seen as purely for kids. The shows such as Pokemon, Digimon, Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon, are the ones which most people are at least aware of – however these shows were successful because they captured the 8-12 year old demographic and are subsequently designed for such an audience. Not to upset and fanboys/girls, but many anime fans see these shows as overrated, annoying and frankly crap. Not because they are so bad in themselves but, most anime fans view shows that target an older audience / are less mainstream, and therefore rightfully consider shows like Pokemon, kiddy-fare. The shows I mentioned above were successful because they were easily marketable, easy to follow and popular. Thinking that all anime is like Pokemon is like thinking all shows targeted towards children and young adults are like Highschool Musical and Hannah Montana – these shows enrage us for a reason – because they are so retarded yet are popular….the same goes for many anime fans and how they view Pokemon and co. People in West rarely get to see the excellent analogous anime equivalents to The Wire, Band of Brothers etc.
Anime 101: Characteristics and Styles
Anime series are unlike series in the West in that they are usually produced in a haphazard fashion and sometimes aired in different sequences. The sites I mention below all have the series in the correct order. Most anime series are 26 episodes long, with some shorter. Those that are organized in seasons are usually in sets of 2-3 seasons with 26 episodes in each season. While some may be disappointed that they are short-lived shows, this doesn’t take away from the quality, as the vast majority wrap up in a satisfactory manner, so don’t worry about being left hanging just because there is only one season. Most of the most acclaimed series are only one season. On the other hand there are long lived series such as Bleach and Naruto which are still in production and currently have about 300 episodes, with One Piece having over 500 at this point.
While the most widely known and recognized form of anime entails big eyes, small mouths and noses (again think the style of Pokemon), anime actually is drawn in a wide range of forms, ranging from highly stylized (fantastic clothing and crazy hairstyles in colours not found in nature), to very subdued versions which try to accurately mimic real life, often found in more serious serializations and movies. The style depends on both the animator, the studio which is producing the series or movie, as well as the needs of the story being told, with animation styles often reflecting the plot in severity, harshness, whimsy etc.
In terms of clothing you will see a wide range, depending on the intended audience, plot, setting etc. A common set of clothing is the school uniform. You will come across this in many anime series, as many revolve around or include aspects of growing up, youth culture, and school. Generally the school uniforms consist of pants, shirt, tie and jacket for men and skirts, hip-high socks or stockings, as well as blouse, neckerchief and occasionally a school jacket for girls. The uniforms are generally loosely based on the attire of sailors, and the uniforms in anime are based upon (sometimes loosely) the school uniforms of Japanese middle-school and high school students.
Humour is a central element to most if not all anime series, as even the darkest shows will occasionally have humorous scenes or lines. Humour in anime is mainly slapstick, with emphasis on violence, misunderstandings and sexually ambiguous situations. There is a great deal of sophistication and range of humour, with many excellent one liners, humorous quibs and jabs, followed by overblown reactions, hilarious scenes and about 9000% more kicks to the face than real life. Humour in anime often plays with physics, often slowing down or speeding up time, ignoring inertia, gravity and velocity as mischievous boys are routinely launched and kicked halfway across the building or into the stratosphere, by enraged girls; to little serious lasting damage. I regularly burst into laughing from the jokes and antics in the series I watch, and the vast majority of jokes transfer well across cultures and language. Basically humour in anime is part Three’s Company, part Jackass and part Will E. Coyote physics
Violence also plays a large role, be it in the form of cartoon comedy violence (ala Looney Toons), or as part of the plot, such as in horror, action and thriller series. Again like most media the range of violence depends on the target audience and plot. There are some shows such as Azumanga Daioh which never shows any more blood than perhaps a bitten finger, whereas other shows like Bleach often show blood – although rarely overly graphic scenes of death (although no matter where they seem to get hit the mark always ends up on a shoulder, and the 3 feet geysers of blood which are initiated on contact seem to indicate that everyone in Soul Society has quadruple digit blood pressure values – anyways I digress) At the other hand of the spectrum you have ElfenLied, where you often see people’s heads explode, be ripped in two, blood and entrails and limbs flying everywhere – yet each of the three mentioned has a different “PG” rating if you will. Azumanga Daioh can be watched by everyone, although usually tween-teens (aimed at girls), Bleach is marketed at 11-15 year old boys, whereas Elfenlied is aimed at the 17+ demographic.
Emotions in anime are often expressed with the aid of symbols, and as the examples show facial features, structure and size are often changed or simplified to further express the level of emotion felt by the characters, as well as for humorous effect. The symbols mentioned below are found in most anime series, although those with overly realistic styles or dark themes tend to avoid them as it generally clashes with the tone of the story of style of the series/movie
Anger: Aside from shouting and bodily harm, anger and annoyance is often expressed by a cross like symbol, usually located on the upper forehead. This symbol can be quite small and colourless to denote mild annoyance, all the way to bright red, bulging and very large to denote rage. It is basically an exaggeration of a forehead vein in order to better portray the emotion of the characters. Anger is also denoted by additional veins on the face, a darkening of the eyes, or conversely the eyes becoming orbs of red or white, as well as exaggerated facial features.
Awkwardness / Embarrassment: This is usually shown by a teardrop shape, which appears either on the forehead of the characters, on the back of their head if viewed from behind or all over depending on the level and intensity of the emotion. The symbol designates a bead of sweat, thereby signifying that the character is uncomfortable or feels awkward. Again the number and size of the symbol denotes the intensity.
Blushing: This one is pretty straight forward. Anime series use blushing to various degrees (see below) to demonstrate that the character is embarrassed. This is usually used in the context of interactions with the opposite gender (i.e. having said something flirtatious, being surprised by advances, trying not to admit an interest in someone etc.) Blushing can be very mild, or very prominent depending on both situation and animation style.
Nosebleeds: This one confuses a lot of people, since it is culturally specific to Japan. Nosebleeds in anime indicate (unless the person has just recently been punched/kicked in the face) that they are aroused / interested / thinking sexual thoughts. Nosebleeds are usually used when male characters get overly excited talking about girls, or when they happen to walk in on a girl naked / changing / in the shower etc.
Sub not Dub: Sub not Dub means Subtitles not Dubbed over (in English). You will generally be able to find most anime series online in both the original Japanese with subtitles and dubbed over in other languages (mainly English – although dubs are less prevalent). I strongly recommend only using subbed versions, since for some reason when anime is translated and dubbed in English the voice acting is always awful. The tone, style and often entire character are changed (usually for the worse). Most anime viewers watch the originals with subtitles. I find that this is far more enjoyable because the lines retain their emotional potency and the pace and feel of the series/movie is maintained. I cannot stress how much better it is in the original Japanese.
I don’t speak Japanese, yet the subtitles letting me know what is actually being said are only half of it. The inflection and tone are just as important and lend the emotion and humour to the show. Don’t be put off by thinking that having to read subtitles takes away from the pace and attachment – it doesn’t. I found that I was quickly able to read along out of the corner of my and still able to focus on what on screen. If you are unaccustomed to subtitles, just persist for a couple episodes…if you like the story they are a non-issue. Despite subtitles I regularly develop deep connections with the characters and laugh and cry and worry accordingly…a good anime show will suck you and make you care just as well as the best ‘live’ series
If you want to purchase anime, it is best to do so online via sites such as Amazon.com since they are not as readily available as other series in DVD form. You can however generally find some in most video stores and gaming/tech stores, and most large book stores such as Chapters in North America, or Waterstones in the UK, which sell other media will have some anime DVDs, as well as manga books and guides on drawing anime.
Watching Anime Online: Watching anime online is your best bet, as it the most accessible medium…and its free (I love the Internet). I have watched dozens of series, all of them online. I recommend www.animefreak.tv and www.zomganime.com – they have hundreds of series and movies to stream or download – free of charge and usually without limit. Most of the episodes on these sites have mirrors (the same source file from a different provider). If you can click on the mirror options and try to watch the mirrors from Veoh.com and others (some require plugins and a player – these can all be found free online.) Most anime episodes links are by MegaVideo. MegaVideo is a good provider but if you can try and watch the mirror links on the page since while all are free and have no viewing limits, MegaVideo only allows you to watch 72 minutes in one sitting. While this isn’t too bad of a problem, since you can usually fit three episodes in. Once you hit the limit you have to wait an hour before you can watch another 72 minutes. This might be a minor annoyance, if you want to do a marathon.
If there is a show which you like and that is longish (26 episodes +) – I would recommend torrenting it. Torrenting allows you to rapidly download large files by accessing data from many users with that file. I recommend using Utorrent as your program and personally I usually search www.scrapetorrent.com or www.thepiratebay.org. Torrenting saves you bandwidth as compared to just streaming, as well as freeing you in case you want to watch and your internet is down. Just make sure to check that its subbed not dubbed. If anyone needs help on how to torrent or more information, just leave a comment below and I’ll teach you how to torrent.
Since everyone has different tastes and interests, I have included a list of series and movies which I recommend. Personally I view all sorts of types. The one’s listed below I’ve watched and would recommend to a friend.
Basically anything made by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki and associates. Miyazaki is basically the Walt Disney of Anime and many of his films are highly acclaimed and have won numerous awards including Oscars.
Top Choices: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service. There are a bunch more – just Wiki Studio Ghibli.
If I try and write a synopsis for every movie and series I’ll be here forever. The viewing sites I mentioned earlier all have summaries when you click on a specific movie/series. Wikipedia is good but of course is full of spoilers so watch out!
Shohen Jump: This means anime’s characterized by fight scenes, battles, magic etc. These usually involve teenage boys yelling a lot and hacking at stuff. Shohen stuff is usually what most people associate with anime…hadokens and all. While this is not my favourite category, I did enjoy Bleach…and I’ll include Naruto because some people like it (personally I don’t). Both series are aimed at the 12-16 age bracket, but still enjoyable for older viewers, and good introductory series for newcomers.
Slice of Life: These types of shows generally revolve around the drama, interactions, relationships and humour surrounding school life and everyday activities. This sub-genre has a lot of my favourites and despite a lack of blood and action still offers plenty of entertainment…so guys don’t be put off because emotions are involved. I highly recommend The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Azumanga Daioh, Full Metal Panic Fumuffo
Mech: These involve giant robots in one form or another. Robots vs. Robots, Robots vs. Aliens, Robots vs. Evil Government etc. Some series are more focused on battles, others also play upon the interactions of characters and morals. I recommend Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic, Code Geass
Thriller: Intellectual, moral and ethical dramas, often with intelligent protagonists. Some awesome ones are DeathNote, Code Geasss and Reqiuem for the Phantom
Fantasy/Fictional: This is a broad category, which includes series which emphasis magic, mythical creatures, sci-fi space etc. Some recommendations include, Blood + (vampires), Trigun (post-apocalyptic), Cowboy Bebop (space), Elfenlied (demons), Full Metal Alchemist (magic/alchemy).
I am sure I am forgetting some other goods ones, or some which I haven’t seen yet.
Anime holds it ground and in my opinion surpasses many “mainstream” shows in terms of plot and likeable characters. Anime also allows you to learn more about the culture and customs of Japan, as often, national holidays, observances, spirituality, food and custom are part of the plot and on display. It is difficult to explain, the best I can say is to watch some series. I am repeatedly delighted and surprised by both the scope and depth of many plots as well as the pathos and emotional responses which your favourite characters can invoke.
J.D. Luedi is a listener from Switzerland and contributing writer for Stimulatedboredom.com
Images & minor edits by Dana