Anime – A Quick Intro

Anime in Japan is simply short for Animation, and incorporates all forms of animation whether originating in Japan, or from outside, for example the pixar movies would be considered to be Anime. Anime in the west however has become synonymous with animation originating in Japan, or in the style of Japanese animation originating from outside Japan. Anime has a distinct art style, although there are different styles of Anime, they all tend to incorporate a common theme, the art style used by Anime is similar to that of Manga. The difference between Anime and Manga is that Manga is comics, where as Anime is animated cartoons. A lot of Anime is based on Manga.

A History of Anime

Astro Boy

Astro Boy

Although the earliest ever Japanese commercial animation dates to 1917, what we know as anime was really born in the 1960s with the work of Osamu Tezuka, who was the creator of Astro Boy. Anime grow and spread both in Japan and internationally in the later 20th Century. In the 1980s the Mecha (or simply Robot in Japan) genre become increasingly popular, thus helping to spread the acceptance of anime, with shows like Gundum. This lead to Anime becoming far more accepted in Japan, though not to the same extend as Manga. It was in the 1980s that Anime began to spread beyond the shores of Japan, into the international markets. From 1990s through the turn of the 21st Century saw the popularity of Anime grow further. Studio Ghibli become a well known studio after their breakout hit Spirited Away in 2002. Spirited away won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival and in 2003 it won the 75th Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Like live action movies and television shows, Anime covers a vast range of genres and there are Anime films and television shows, representing pretty much any genre you can think off. Anime unlike western cartoons that tend to be aimed at children with a few notable examples like Family Guy, there is anime to appeal to a devise ranges of ages.  Anime stories can be a complex and dealing with a wide range of issues and themes. Anime has worked its way into a lot of western culture, with shows like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and films like Spirited Away and Howls Moving Castle appealing to audiences all over the world.

In recent years it has gone even more mainstream, where once you had to know what you were looking for and how to find it, with a limited amount released in the west. The birth of the internet this has changed dramatically. It started with online stores like Amazon, but in recent years has expanded with the birth and exponential growth in streaming media services. Nowadays anime can be watched through general streaming series like Netflix, as well as more specialist services like Crunchyroll and Animax. Netflix especially as made it easier to access Anime for the mainstream audiences, as well as making anime of its own, 8 of the Netflix original series are in the Anime style. This mainstream acceptance by the networks, has further promoted Anime in the west and prompted more studios to bring their anime to a western audience.

The Myths

There are a lot of myths surrounding Anime, these can cause people to be put of by the term anime. So here are some of the common myths surrounding the anime genre.

It is Weird.

Anime is weird is a myth that I hear a lot. Anime is the reflection of a culture, which is often at odds to western culture and way of thinking. This can sometimes make anime seem weird to western viewers, especially new comers to the genre. Sometimes these culture differentness can be slight, sometimes they can be extreme, and some anime like western movies are meant to weird or shocking. This myth also got perpetuated by Akira, this was released back when not a large amount of anime was coming over to the west, and so was often an introduction to the genre for many people. Akira is a landmark Anime film, but I can understand how it would not appeal. When approaching anime it is best to keep an open mind, be mindful that it does come for a culture different to our own, and remember if you don’t like a series or find it hard to get into check out another one.

It is Sexual.

Anime is sexual, ok so again another common myth about anime. There is an entire genre of anime and manga that is very sexual, often referred to in the west as Hentai. Hentai meaning pervert in Japan is pornographic anime and manga content. This narrow genre aside most manga and anime does not contain, or contains a very small amount sexual content. Much like western TV shows and Films can contain a sexual element when the story requires it, the same is true of anime. Again like with the first myth remember that this is coming from a different culture to ours. When you think about it the western media is very sexualise too, but I think that we are not use to seeing this in animation. This is likely due to the vast amount of western animation been aimed at the younger market. Like western movies and television allow the age guidance to give you some idea of what kind of level to expect. I can however say, that in my personal experience the vast amount of anime I watched has very little. Like with the weird myth above if you find an anime show overly sexual for your liking just try something else.

It has Subtitles.

Anime is always in Japanese with subtitles. This is a common myth, it is true that the majority of Anime is made by Japanese studios for a Japanese audience, this results in the vast majority of it been Japanese first. It is ultimately simpler and cheeper for a western publisher to bring over the Japanese audio and simply add subtitles. When anime was hard to come by then this was the case, a lot of it was brought over in Japanese with subtitles. The other major reason for this format been prevalent is that Anime purist believe it is the best way to view Anime, in Japanese with subtitles. Now days however with the Anime genre been picked up by more publishers in the west, and the more mainstream appeal, a lot of anime these days is dubbed in to English. I have however noticed that Crunchyroll tends to lean toward Japanese audio with English subtitles, and Netflix has some shows also in this format even when a dubbed version is available. I would suspect in the case of Crunchyroll it is because they are aiming at the hardcore purist anime fanbase, where as with Netflix I would guess its more likely a licensing issue. You normally find that if you can not get your favourite anime series dubbed in English through streaming services, you will be able to by purchasing the blu-ray.

It is for nerds.

Anime is for Nerds. Part of me wanting to say so what if it is, but it does show another common misconception around Anime. Likely this myths originates from the early days of Anime in the west where the “Mecha” genre was popular with shows like Gundam, Patlabor and Dominion Tank Police.  It was also probably not helped by the fact that because Anime is niche, although now becoming more mainstream, niche always tends to mean Nerdy in the main stream populous’s perception. Anime covers a vast range of genres telling all kinds of stories, as much as mainstream movies and TV shows in the west, meaning the content of anime, is certainly not “Nerdy”. Anime like a number of interests, often promotes people that are both knowledgeable and passionate these traits are sadly seen by many as nerdy. I can’t really dispute this, partly because there is absolutely nothing wrong with been a nerd, and partly because it is an emotional reaction.

Some Highlights to start with

Spirited Away (2001).

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I am going to start with Spirited Away. Spirited Away is a beautiful film, that tales the story of a young girl that when on the way to her new home, gets separate from her parents. Her mum, dad and her end up wandering into the spirit world, and when her parents turn into pigs she has to find away to get them back to normal and escape back to human world. She finds work in a bath house used by the spirits and ruled over by an evil witch. She makes lots of friends in and connected to the bath house that aid her on her quest.

Ghost In The Shell (1995).

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Next up is no surprises here, Ghost In The Shell. I really do think that Ghost In The Shell is a pivotal movie in the anime genre and shows anime at its best. It is a complex and deep story that can hold its own to any live action movie. It tells the story of a world where all most every human has some form of cybernetic implant, its a world were it is almost impossible to live with out at least the basic implants. In this world people, just like computers can be hacked and even made to do things against their well. The movie explores in such a world what does it actually mean to be human, this question of humanity is hit straight on when a program claims to be alive.

Blue Exorcist (2011).

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Now for a more modern Anime series, I recently watched this on Netflix and completely enjoyed it, Blue Exorcist. like many of the Anime out there, it was original a Manga series by the same name, it has also spawned a film. The story follows two brothers Rin and Yukio that just happen to be the sons of satan born to a human women. They were raised by a Father Shiro Fujimoto who happens to be an exorcist, witnessing Shiro sacrifice while Satan is trying to poses him, Rin decided to use his powers for good and too become an exorcist. The series follows the adventures of Rin as he struggles with his heritage, corruption in the very organisation he now finds himself apart off, and controlling his power. The series is a good one, with a fun and fully developed story, with great characters who although are demon hunters in a fictional Japan are somehow relatable. It is also noted for is fights scenes that are considered to be well performed and executed making them one of the anime’s strongest points.

Fairy Tail (2009).

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Another series that I enjoyed on Netflix was Fairy Tail, this is a more comedy series, and one that never fails to make me laugh. Set in a magical world called Earth Land, where magic is a common as technology. Used by everyone, a few people dedicate their lives to mastering it these people are wizards. Wizards are arranged into guilds  of which Fairy Tail is one of the strongest and most famous. The story mainly centres around Lucy, the newest member of Fairy tail and Natsu, who was raised by a dragon and who’s magic is immensely powerful. Natsu is still learning how to control his powers and with the help of his friends he grows in to one of the most powerful wizards in fairly tail.

Where Next.

Other than the four mentioned above there is loads of Anime out there to enjoy, and thanks to streaming media services there is a lot you can access as part of your subscription. You can check out a list of all the anime on Netflix and anime on Amazon Video here (both links refer to the UK sites), if you want to dive deep into the world then you can always check out anime on Crunchy Roll. If your on Neflix, I have also created an “Into to Anime” Flixtape.