May 25 2005, 07:15 AM
I'm not really a newbie, but there are certain themes and idea that seem to occur in anime over and over and over... and I have no idea why. Would anyone here be willing to help shed some light on hese questions I (and other folks) may have about anime?
May 25 2005, 07:53 AM
most of the themes that stand out to westerners are ones that unique elements of the japanese culture.
turn the question around, and i'm sure they've wondered about our fascination with loose-cannon cops on the edge, car chases, and oh, i don't know.... guns?
big robots, cute/innocent/subservient/overpowered female androids, and ineffectual defense forces come straight out of the japanese cultural experience.
these themes have been blended with -- but not replaced by -- the japanese take on western cliches, like the ones i first mentioned.
... and let's save the whole tentacle thing for another forum.
May 25 2005, 08:02 AM
I am really not that familiar with the japanese culture (so correct me please) - but I believe that it is bad form, or manners to "stand out", and that it is more socially acceptable to conform. Perhaps that's why anime all looks the same, to my untrained eye ?
May 25 2005, 08:44 AM
No, I don't care about tentacles.
I just wonder... school, schoolgirls, very exceptional children capable of functioning within the military... that's where my first questions are.
Is school really that universal a set of circumstances and settings? Using jon's idea of turning it around and looking western entertainment, I can see that the school occurs a lot as a backdrop. The WB's entire primetime lineup depends on that acceptance. But... That programming is targeted for a certain youth demographic (or old guys wanting to see girls that are too pretty for their own good...).
Is anime that uses the same school backdrop and frame targeted the same way? Since it all sits side by side on the store shelf under one 'anime' heading, it can be hard to differentiate. It's not like they say this is comedy anime, this is action anime, this is children's anime... you see what I mean?
May 25 2005, 09:11 AM
i think the school setting provides a common point of reference, without necessarily indicating a target audience of school children.
evangelion hits a lot of the themes you mentioned (school children as elite military) and it's been copied quite a bit.
japan's had a very limited military for the last 60 years or so, and i've never seen regular military forces in anime do anything but explode at the first sign of an enemy.
i've never been to japan, but i'd have to say the 'exceptionally gifted child' as an archetype prolly serves as a fantasy escape against the pressures of societal conformity.
this is also a common thread in western cultures, where the protagonist is almost exclusively male: harry potter and luke skywalker fit nicely in the underappreciated youth with hidden powers / royal lineage.
there is also a huge panty fetish audience in japan, and it may be that school uniforms (including college) might be the last chance to see girls/women in short skirts in a normal setting.
why didn't luke go to school???
May 25 2005, 10:36 AM
"The movie uses the film noir visuals that are common in anime, and it shares that peculiar tendency of all adult animation to give us women who are (A) strong protagonists at the center of the story, and (B) nevertheless almost continuously nude. An article about anime in a recent issue of Film Quarterly suggests that to be a “salary man'' in modern Japan is so exhausting and dehumanizing that many men (who form the largest part of the animation audience) project both freedom and power onto women, and identify with them as fictional characters."
--Roger Ebert, in his Ghost in the Shell review
May 25 2005, 11:26 AM
Nice quote, Mike. I actually can see what that quote is saying. Western movies like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Underworld, Charlie's Angels... might suggest that American (if not western men) have more in common with our Japanese counterparts than we probably think. At least when it comes to sexy (over 18) heroines...
So there isn't anything to read into the school thing other than its something every one can identify with and doesn't really mean that anime using a school as a setting is a children's show. That is kind of interesting. I know that if I try to watch Dawson's Creek (a show with a lot of school settings), I know I am watching a teenager's show. So we're thinking that is not the case with anime...
The idea about exceptional children is an easy one to trace to marketability. Why did the Spy Kids movies do so well? Brilliant moviemaking? Kind of. Showing kids kick adult booty sells tickets on both sides of the Pacific. But why so often do we find these kids as super-soldiers? The kid in Spriggan is like a high-schooler that gets the weekends off to be like a one man delta force for the governement... I can't really think of a Western equal... Things like Spy Kids are almost always 'zany' or 'wacky' and definitely 'silly'. Spriggan was pretty serious. I'm not saying good or bad. I just would like to know more about it...
May 25 2005, 12:07 PM
Most anime that are set in schools are supposed to be targeted to an audience the same age as the protagonists -- however, Japanese media have much more lenient standards about exposing younger viewers to sex and violence than Western media. There are some exceptions: Evangelion, for instance, became controversial for going too far with sex and violence in a 6pm timeslot, leading to an increase in mature shows being scheduled in late-night timeslots.
Also, ever since Sailor Moon, producers have realized that showing teenage girls in school unforms with short skirts appeals both to teenage girls and men in their 20s and 30s, so with more recent shows like Pretty Cure, there's now an intentional effort to target both demographics.
May 25 2005, 12:10 PM
I think the emphasis on school settings is so pervasive in anime simply because it's so all-pervasive in Japanese life as a whole. We Westerners have a hard time imagining a world in which elementary-school students have to take intensely difficult "entrance exams" just to earn the right to go to junior high, but that's how important school is over there. Many, if not most of the students in a Japanese high school are also attending a "cram school" which is basically like a night school geared towards passing the all-important college entrance exams. Most schoolchildren attend school on Saturdays and Sundays as well.
The other factor in the preponderance of school-related issues is cultural. America sees itself as a nation of innovators and mavericks, so it celebrates those characters in its own movies and TV shows--"just be yourself" seems to be the moral lesson at the core of most media aimed at young people.
To the Japanese, someone who celebrates their own individuality runs the risk of cutting themselves off from the people around him. It's not that they don't love "lone wolf" characters too--Die Hard is hugely popular in Japan, for example, but Dirty Harry isn't. The moral lesson is different: "never let your friends/family down."
What's Party of Five about? A family of orphans, cut off from society and free to live life by their own rules. In a way, it's almost the ultimate example of an American teen show. To the Japanese, school is where people learn how to be good citizens, how to put the needs of others first, how to behave. No wonder it's invariably the starting point for so many anime series. To the young people watching those shows, school is their whole life.
May 25 2005, 12:10 PM
hamtaro is the only 'kid' show that involves school, as far as i can recall. i suppose if you include high-school and college, that would cover many such shows... hmm..
it's getting really difficult to find anime that hasn't been 'polluted' by western influences, just as you can't find anything animated these days in north america that doesn't borrow from anime.
i'd say laura croft and buffy have done more than anime to encourage strong females as the lead protagonist in the west, but disney's promotion of the miyazaki films have certainly helped.
child as elite martial (if not military) operative goes all the way back to the foundation of anime: astro boy.
why has the archetype endured? the military is the ultimate expression of group power, so it has some value, but it is ultimately doomed before the might of the enemy (usually a gigantic monster, the mother of all being godzilla).
try as i might, i can't find a motivation more complex than the adolescent power fantasy.
i'm not being dismissive, my favorite movie of all time (dark city) falls into that category as well.
May 25 2005, 01:38 PM
|QUOTE (luckbat @ May 25 2005, 12:10 PM)|
| To the Japanese, someone who celebrates their own individuality runs the risk of cutting themselves off from the people around him. It's not that they don't love "lone wolf" characters too--Die Hard is hugely popular in Japan, for example, but Dirty Harry isn't. The moral lesson is different: "never let your friends/family down." |
And yet the Dirty Pair were named after Dirty Harry. I don't think you can make this kind of a generalization. There are plenty of examples of anime about maverick, individualistic people in the context of school student bodies (Ranma, Utena), school staff (GTO, Strawberry Eggs), law enforcement (Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell to an extent), and the military (Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Nadesico). I should also point out that there have been anime about classrooms and schools full of juvenile delinquents for a long time, like Shonan Bakusozoku and Sukeban Deka, but these shows are now becoming even more commonplace recently: GTO again, Cromartie High and Gokusen.
|What's Party of Five about? A family of orphans, cut off from society and free to live life by their own rules. In a way, it's almost the ultimate example of an American teen show. To the Japanese, school is where people learn how to be good citizens, how to put the needs of others first, how to behave. No wonder it's invariably the starting point for so many anime series. To the young people watching those shows, school is their whole life.|
There are also many anime whose protagonists are kids living on their own (in a much bigger house than the average Japanese living space), usually because their parents are overseas, like Video Girl Ai, Compiler, or Detective Conan/Case Closed. Or characters who intentionally move away from their parents (Gantz, I'm Gonna Be an Angel!).
Anyway, if you're going to do a story featuring kids under 18 who are living in a civilization with technology and a standard of living at least as good as the present day, why wouldn't they be in school?
May 31 2005, 06:53 AM
these are very good answers. I had some idea that Japanese schools were competitive, but no idea to what extent. Thanks.
Now let's move on to say... super secret police and military organizations.
Maybe it's a result of the anime that I watch, but there always seems to be a LOT of complexity to the way the government works and the way it interacts with its military and police. As an American, I regard the police and military to be a part of the government. As such, I can't think of a possibility of the army just 'taking over' or having leaders that are openly adversaerial. How often is there a general that is biding his time to just overthrow the government? Maybe since I've just watched Appleseed a few times, it's clouding my thoughts... But that movie seems to use many of these ideas that I would consider stand-by plot devices for anime.
Are the Japanese really distrustful of the government?
My only knowledge of Japanese military is that after WWII, they couldn't have one. Now I guess they have one, but they need permission to use it outside their borders (I think). Is there anything else to know?
I had read once that many times movies are actually meant to be viewed after you had read the manga relating to the movie. If you had, then you would know some of the backstory, and the movie wouldn't feel like you were just jumping in the middle of some complex entanglement of unexplained relationships and complex story arcs apparently already halfway started. Is that true?
Thanks for the discussion, folks. I knew I could count on this forum for some education.
May 31 2005, 10:40 AM
When the U.S. created Japan's constitution following WWII, one of the provisions, known as Article 9, forbid Japan from waging war.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Japan maintains a kind of military, known as the SDF (Self-Defense Force), to be used only for defense in the event that Japan is ever attacked. Of course, since the U.S. is one of Japan's strongest allies, no country would ever dream of attacking Japan, although the Japanese get pretty nervous about Kim Jong-Il sometimes.
Ironically, by preventing Japan from spending its GNP on a military, Article 9 forced the country to pour most of its money into its own infrastructure, eventually making Japan one of the most powerful countries in the world, economically, during the 1980s.
|Are the Japanese really distrustful of the government?|
No more than we are. But the Japanese government is disproportionately huge compared to most countries', and is generally thought of as an formidable bureaucracy, where corruption and waste is the norm. The prevalence of "secret police" and "renegade sections" in anime isn't so much a reflection as an exaggeration for dramatic purposes. The Japanese see their government as so complicated and so unaccountable that the notion that certain departments have vast resources, hidden from public view, is not so hard to swallow.
That said, the Japanese don't fear their corrupt, bloated government, because in real life, the sheer amount of bureaucracy prevents it from making any major changes to the country. Thus, the general secretly plotting to overthrow the government is usually the bad guy. His crime: putting his own needs above those of his people--always a bad thing in Japanese culture.
|I had read once that many times movies are actually meant to be viewed after you had read the manga relating to the movie.|
That really depends. There's no question that anime can barely scratch the surface of the manga it's based on. The popular manga Lone Wolf and Cub, for example, ran for over 9000 pages. Yes, I said nine thousand. So most anime that gets adapted from manga tends to pick, say, book #2 of 34, and just adapt that one. There's no question you'll understand the movie Akira a lot better if you read the whole 2000-page story (although the movie only covers a portion of volume 1 of 6).
On the other hand, manga adaptations are often changed so much as to be unrecognizable, and thus not every anime viewing is enhanced by reading the comic. Many animated interpretations are considered vastly superior to the original manga, though certainly not all. (I, for one, was deeply disappointed by Appleseed in comparison to the intricately plotted and characterized manga on which it was losely based.) The Naruto animated series, to toss out another example, matches the Naruto manga nearly frame-for-frame.
Sorry if this sounds like a lame cop-out, but the fact is, sometimes the anime streamlines and improves the original manga; other times it's but a pale imitation, or worse. I don't think there's any rule of thumb you can use in deciding whether viewing the manga will enhance your understanding. Watch what you like; read what you like.
May 31 2005, 02:12 PM
The Naruto anime compared to the manga really has a lot more side stories, but takes forever to explain stuff (as you might know, the bad/good guys spend a heck of a lotta time explaining whats going on, sounds dumb telling the enemy what your doing..but whatever).
other than that theres really only minor changes, such as the seal (or whatever it was) on Negi`s forhead. changed cause it looked nearly like the Nazi symbol.
May 31 2005, 02:42 PM
|QUOTE (pdaley @ May 31 2005, 09:53 AM)|
|I had some idea that Japanese schools were competitive, but no idea to what extent. |
A trombone-playing acquaintance of mine from Japan explained to us that band directors were allowed to beat students for playing a wrong note. The parents gave permission for this. They expected him to beat their kids. They demanded it because they knew all the other band directors were beating their students too.
He also played us a tape of a japanese high school-age band playing the finale to Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 in a competition. This is a technical piece that people strive to play as fast as possible.
It was the most astonishingly fast performance I have ever, EVER heard. And it was still good, every note in place, and not one muddy passage and enjoyable in every way. Perfect, if you will.
So with all this pursuit of perfection, why do anime walk cycles always look so awful?
Jun 1 2005, 02:16 PM
|So with all this pursuit of perfection, why do anime walk cycles always look so awful? |
hehehehe That just cracked me up.
Jun 2 2005, 12:19 AM
|QUOTE (robcat2075 @ May 31 2005, 02:42 PM)|
|So with all this pursuit of perfection, why do anime walk cycles always look so awful?|
LOL! So true!
I remember a while back on CGTalk there was a post by a japanese student complaining how it was really hard to find a Japanese animation school which taught animation! Most just taught how to draw well, not animate. Must be the manga-heritage of anime.
'course there are always exceptions - Studio Ghibli and Production I.G. do amazing animation work (FLCL.. wow!) Prod. IG has this new "rough" style they've been using lately which I just love. If you saw the Animatrix, then it's the "kid" animation at the end where a student is chased through his school by agents. They also used it in Kill Bill v1.
But those are OAVs and movies with bigger budgets, that's always a factor.
Speaking of IG... for all those who loved 'Blood' (I was one of em) they announced a tv series based on it! Coming soon - http://www.productionig.com/project.php?id=52
Jun 8 2005, 08:40 AM
Here's a fresh question:
Girls with cat ears and robots with rabbit ears. What's up?
girls with cat ears: i'd have to say that's rooted in female subservience, i.e. girls as cute pets.
it also skirts the edge of kemono (beast) creatures, that while not exactly mainstream, are less marginalized that western anthropomorphic art... 'furries'.
short answer: yet another fetish. ' ' )
robots with rabbit ears: i'm a little fuzzier (heh) on this one, but i'd say its mainly an attempt to make stiff, metal characters more expressive, with a dash of animal spirit thrown in for good measure.
of course, some antennas are actually called 'rabbit ears', so it may have begun there.
Jun 9 2005, 05:35 AM
As far as the robots with rabbit ears go, I think you'd agree there's a rich tradition in anime of basing robot designs on animals--the mobile platforms in Appleseed being one example, or the tachikoma (mini spider-tanks) in Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex
Personally, I've always seen this trend as being influenced by Shintoism, Japan's main religion (along with Buddhism). Shintoism is one of the last surviving animist religions, one in which every rock, tree and animal has its own individual spirit-god. (Which should put the plot of Princess Mononoke into a little more perspective.) So, even in modern Japan, there's always this feeling that the spirits of the natural world are all around, in everything. You could even see the multitude of tiny figurines that everyone dangles from their cellphones as a kind of contemporary totem.
I once had a conversation with a robotics engineer from Honda, and he had his own theory about why robots are such an integral part of Japanese culture. "In the Western world," he suggested, "you have the Frankenstein myth; your culture is constantly reminded never to tamper in God's domain. In Japan, we have no such myth. So people don't have the same discomfort about robots and androids. We think they're fun."
Hence: AIBO, the adorable robot dog. Okay, so I've gone off on a bit of a tangent here, but I guess what I'm saying is that, as I see it, anime robots have rabbit ears because lending animalistic qualities to robots makes them look like they're part of the natural world, in some crazy kind of way.
Jun 14 2005, 07:34 AM
Mike and Jon:
That actually makes a lot of sense. It makes me wonder what designers are after when they design a robot that CAN'T show any emotion. Like the Big O's face. It's like a statue. No little ears or any other ability to emote. It's only worth pointing out because it is exactly the opposite of showing a robot capable of emotion.
Jun 14 2005, 07:51 AM
Supposedly the facial design of Ultraman is based on Buddhist statues
One of the recurring images in Japanese pop culture comes from its own mythologies: the giant guardian. Almost invariably the guardian's face is either that of an animal (e.g. Gamera), or an expressionless mask (e.g. The Big O).
Given the intermixing of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan, it's not surprising to see these two types of iconography on display. The conventions were actually combined to great effect in Evangelion,
in which giant protector robots are slowly revealed to be horrifying Biblical creatures hidden beneath battle armor. Deeply unsettling.
Incidentally, recent interpretations of Gamera suggest that he's a synthetic being created by an ancient civilization. In one movie, a vast underwater graveyard is discovered at the bottom of the ocean, littered with rejected beta-versions of Gamera. (No, really!)
Jun 15 2005, 06:59 AM
You're like my personal guidebook to Japan! I hope others are finding this little dialog interesting! (And would chime in with questions or comments of their own)
Here's one that may not be so universal:
Have you seen Spriggan? I've only ever watched the dub. Is it actually Noah's Ark that they are searching for in the Japanese language version? I may be exposing my limited knowledge of world religions, but is the story of Noah (and other popular Sunday school lessons) widely known in Japan?
Jun 15 2005, 07:51 AM
I haven't seen Spriggan, so someone else'll have to chime in with their own thoughts on that one, but I can at least confirm, that yes, that is really Noah's Ark they're protecting in that movie.
The Japanese are an island nation with an extremely homogenous society, but at the same time, their daily lives are awash in cultural exports from nearby China, India and Australia, not to mention all the European/American stuff that we're all familiar with over here. So, they're a bit more familiar with our worlds than we are with theirs. To be blunt, they're also a lot more curious about the outside world than, say, Americans are (only one out of five people in the U.S. even have a passport).
That said, the Japanese no more study Christianity in their schools than we study Buddhism in ours. But they're vaguely familiar with the basic stuff, in the same way that we're vaguely familiar with, say, Hinduism. ("Um... That's the main Indian religion, right? With the blue guy? And the elephant god? And some of them have six arms, I think. They believe in reincarnation, too, I'm pretty sure...") So they'll definitely recognize the iconic stuff, like Adam & Eve, the Ark, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I once saw a billboard ad in Tokyo featuring Moses parting the Red Sea, only it was a sea of cheese, and everyone was standing on a giant pizza. I should've taken a photo, but I swear, you just get used to images like that after a while...
Just because they're familiar with the stuff, though, doesn't mean that they feel any particular need to be faithful to it. Manga writers gleefully mine the iconography and fables of their own and nearly every other religion for cool ideas, with little respect for context. (Noah's Ark is like the Genesis Device from Star Trek 2?) No worse than what Hollywood does, I suppose.
Jun 27 2005, 09:06 AM
Okay, so you're testing the world's fastest bullet train, right? And you need some sort of rapidly-deploying retractable brake flaps, right? So what should they look like?
In the Western world: Rectangles.
In Japan: Cat ears.http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getart...n20050625a1.htm
See what I mean?
Jun 30 2005, 07:50 AM
Yes. Yes I do.
Here's one about anime production:
How are anime director's and production houses thought of in Japan? Like, in the US, there are very few well known animation directors. By that I mean, in comparison to the number of film directors that a normal, off the street, Joe sixpack could name, it's probably 10 or 20 to 1 (that's multiple Joe sixpacks just to get one animation director).
In watching the behind the scene's footage for GITS2, when the director and others show up at the premiere, it looks like a big Hollywood style premiere. -Maybe- a pixar movie might get that treatment, but only the more recent ones (could be wrong though).
Is anime so big in Japan that it's almost impossible to parallel in Western understanding?
Jun 30 2005, 11:16 AM
|QUOTE (pdaley @ Jun 30 2005, 08:50 AM)|
| How are anime director's and production houses thought of in Japan? Like, in the US, there are very few well known animation directors. By that I mean, in comparison to the number of film directors that a normal, off the street, Joe sixpack could name, it's probably 10 or 20 to 1 (that's multiple Joe sixpacks just to get one animation director). |
Well, nobody would bat an eyelid at Miyazaki being mentioned in the same breath as Kurosawa in the category of Notable Japanese Directors, but he's probably the only one. Mamoru Oshii would be considered an arthouse director -- his films don't do very big business among Japanese audiences, and Ghost in the Shell was actually much more successful in the US than in Japan. I think the real backbone of the anime industry is in TV, not film. Certainly, the medium of TV allows for more in-depth writing and longer story arcs, but I don't think TV animation directors are any more well known in Japan than TV directors anywhere else.
This is the way I think of film vs. TV anime: it seems like there are very few writers and directors in the anime industry who are able to tell a story in anything less than six and a half hours. Miyazaki happens to be one of those few, but even Nausicaa suffered from being a too tightly condensed version of the original seven-volume manga storyline.
|In watching the behind the scene's footage for GITS2, when the director and others show up at the premiere, it looks like a big Hollywood style premiere. -Maybe- a pixar movie might get that treatment, but only the more recent ones (could be wrong though).|
Was that the premiere? I think that showed Oshii attending a screening of GITS Innocence at Cannes.
|Is anime so big in Japan that it's almost impossible to parallel in Western understanding?|
Being an anime fan, especially for adults, is still considered to be a fringe hobby in Japan. The vast majority of animation produced in Japan is for kids, but most of that doesn't get exported here. Reading manga, on the other hand, is fully mainstream and all-pervasive.
Jun 30 2005, 01:07 PM
All about the business of anime: Talking Anime Business Blues
. (Kinda short, though.)
That article includes a link to this article: The Anime Biz
Jul 12 2005, 02:39 PM
That sounds interesting, what you said about horrifying biblical creatures inside the armor in Evangeleon. Which movie/episode? And which ones would I need to watch prior to watching that movie/episode? I wasn't into the mecha thing before, but that sounds pretty entertaining.
Jul 12 2005, 03:30 PM
Well, the creepy notion that the EVA mechs are actually alive is foreshadowed as early as episode 2, but the "big reveal" takes place at the cliffhanger of episode 19, and becomes the basis of the episodes that follow.
Of course, Evangelion is actually one long convoluted story, so you should really watch them all, but there's your answer. If you absolutely refuse to watch the whole series, you might consider watching the first three eps, then skipping to number 12 (a flashback episode that fills in some of the backstory) and continuing from there. You'll miss most of the character development, but hey--the series is pretty tough for a lot of people to sit through. (I love it, though.)
Jul 13 2005, 12:14 PM
Oh, I was wondering if this might have been one of the movies, but its the actual series. Thanks for the tip-off. I guess I'll just have to tick off the wife, and buy it!