For this segment, we’re probably better off asking “What makes anime special, compared to normal cartoons?“This can be answered in a number of ways. And, frankly, it will be. However, all explanations tend to wind down to a few key points.
Get used to seeing this expression.
The first, and most obvious factor is the fact that anime is a foreign good. The fact that it’s something that isn’t normally available immediately creates a sense of mystery and intrigue. A different culture leads to different customs, and different norms that are represented. Holidays, settings, even the little intricacies of school life and public transportation are represented differently from western norms. Of course, anybody who says that this is the only reason that they watch anime is a dirty liar. Many fans are attracted to a combination of the art and storytelling styles, as well as the broad variety of titles available.
Big eyes, small mouth, crazy backgrounds - what many see as the stereotype
The art style should be familiar to many of you dear readers. The stereotypical exaggerated eyes, small mouths, and limited animation emphasized by “speed lines” and crazy visual indicators like sweat drops and “face-vaults”, in which the character falls suddenly in surprise. While yes, these are all elements to shows in some form or another, the overall style varies greatly between shows. For example, titles like Cowboy Bebop, Yugo the Negotiator, and Tokyo Godfathers use lower-key settings, and portray their characters as mildly stylized exaggerations from reality. On the other hand, a show like Dragon Ball Z or Naruto would go in the opposite direction and encompass many, if not all of the popular genre stereotypes.
Since anime is a visual medium, one can assume that there are films and shows that really exploit their medium and go above and beyond the expected norms, to deliver experiences that range from the fantastic to the surreal. Studio Ghibli would probably be the most famous example of the exemplary anime studio: a group that pushes the bounds of animation to provide inventive and attractive feature films that appeal to the young and old alike. To illustrate their work, a clip from the film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is posted below:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, several titles strive to achieve a visual experience that breaks away from the norms, and border on the abstract. From Madhouse’s Dead Leaves, which provides a kinetic, angular visual style, to Mu-shi-shi which delivers an almost dream-like atmosphere, there is no lack of variety in the visual spectrum. To illustrate the more abstract side of the medium, a selection from Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is available for reference:
The style of storytelling stands as another appealing point to anime as a whole. Anime titles, being based off of comic books (better known as manga), don’t necessarily follow a set format. Some shows are episodic, with each episode having little impact on the next. On the flip side, many shows offer long-running, tightly-written narratives that expect viewers to watch every episode, or risk being lost in the shuffle. These shows are often above common condescension, and written to a level in which viewers can form their own opinion. Rather than the stereotypical heroes and villains, anime worlds are often grey areas, where the protaganists aren’t always good, or even likeable. The flexible format lends itself to a number of genres, and allows for nearly any niche to receive some attention. If there is any topic of interest one can imagine, from simple slice-of-life dramas, to grand, sweeping epics, to even realistic military shows there is probably an anime based on it.
The storytelling is also affected by the format of the typical anime series. The average anime show is thirteen to twenty-six episodes in lengh, a distinct departure from western show. As such, shows are planned to unfold within their scheduled timeframes from the get-go, and are written to finish on-time, and with enough finality to satisfy. This is facilitated by the “comic adaptation” tradition as many of these titles have pre-existing followings, and the writers need not spend nearly as much time on character introductions or detailed background explanations that can eat time and steal energy from the main story. In addition, many shows are straight adaptations, which means that show writers are able to focus on playing with the source to make it flow faster, or tweak certain characters to exclude the elements that they know to be boring. Longer-running shows, like Case Closed, One Piece, and Naruto are more the exception to the rule, in this case.
Yes, that's a girl wielding a modified tank cannon. Yes, that is awesome.
And then, there’s the blood, sex, and violence. Due to more lax restrictions on media, anime titles are able to show moreof the popular taboos. Breasts, gore, and gorings are all fair game, especially in late-night shows. And, in the case of certain titles, like Tenjho Tenge or Ikki Tousen, all three are shown with reckless abandon.
These are only a few popular arguments toward the overall appeal of anime. Many others exist and you, fair reader, may even have your own reasons. Either way, I hope you do continue to enjoy, and delve deeper into the hobby.
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