Large towering robots, mechanical body parts, sword fights, blood, cat girls, impossible to follow plot twists; these
are some of the images most people associate with anime. Another portion of people
simply say, “What’s anime?” or write it off as just another cartoon.
What is the big deal about a bunch of cartoons anyway? Why would adults
want to watch anime? It is true that classical animations target audience has
always been toward children. However, there is a form of animation that targets
a much wider audience. Anime can delve into serious concerns such as economical
and environmental issues; or it can entertain children on a Saturday morning. Anime
plotlines have all the makings of a live-action movie, just without the regular limitations.
As a lover of independent films, I was drawn to these out of the ordinary themes and plot twists. Some anime may cover Hollywood type themes, but they don’t really follow the pattern.
The characters may not be real, but then again, neither are the one’s in live-action movies. Even though they are animation, the characters are often easy to relate with. People with extraordinary powers still come off as being human in their wants, needs, and desires. There is an absolute beauty that accompanies so many of these movies that should not
be overlooked because of a stereotype surrounding them.
Anime is currently one of the most overlooked and misunderstood forms of film.
With this site, I hope to help people understand and maybe even appreciate the different aspects of anime. By starting at the very foundation of anime I believe people may come to understand it as the driving force
that it is. To help you understand the rest of this site, anime is a French word
meaning animation. The word anime is not commonly used in Japan, though. Instead,
they use the word Japanimation, to signify domestic work from other works, seeing as the word anime is used to describe all
forms of animation in Japan. Japanimation used to be the term Americans used, but it fell away to the shorter term, anime. Another term you will often hear when speaking of anime is the word manga.
Manga is what comics are called in Japan,
and literally means whimsical pictures. These are important to anime because
they often influence it even when it is not directly involved with it (Wikipedia).
Although anime has many different genres and characteristics, it can typically be categorized into three different
types. The first type is film, the movies that are generally released into theaters. These films represent the highest budget and are on the higher end of video quality. Film anime such as Princess Mononoke and
Spirited Away have had so much success that they are some of the highest grossing
films in Japan of all time (Halsall).
The second type of anime is called Original Video Animation, or OVA. These
are most similar to television miniseries. The number of episodes can range anywhere
from two to twenty episodes and are normally released directly to video. The
different episodes in a series normally have a very continuous plot making it confusing to watch them out of sequence. Each episode relates to the last one, making one long story. They are also of very high quality animation, close to that used in films, and sometimes even surpassing. Shows such as RahXephon went directly to
video in America, but have still managed
to gain much recognition and many followers. This kind of anime can also be turned
into a series shown on television such as Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo (Halsall).
last type is anime as television series. These shows are typically of lower quality
than that of the other two due to the budget having to be spread out. A full
season consists of twenty-six episodes each averaging about twenty-three minutes.
As in many live-action television series, episodes are commonly unrelated
to each other so viewers are not required to have seen the previous ones to enjoy the one they are watching. They also use “eyecatch” scenes before and after commercial breaks to keep a person hooked,
and opening/closing credits like other television series. Titles that become
very popular will sometimes span across all three of these types. Some good examples are “Tenchi Muyo which was originally an OVA, [and] spawned three movies, two television series, as well as several spin
off titles and specials;” and Ghost in the Shell, which started off a movie
and produced a TV series (Wikipedia).
Anime has many differences stylistically compared
to other forms of animation. Some of the most notable differences lay in the
characters. The characters of anime have many common features inside of the genre.
One thing that is noticeable right off is the overly large eyes. Eyes on anime
characters are made to be the most prominent feature for a reason. Mimicking
Western cartoons, anime started drawing large eyes to help convey emotion. They
are also used to show openness or friendliness. The enemies, or bad-guys, on
the other hand typically have smaller eyes. This increases the feeling of emptiness
or hostility coming from the character. It also makes them seem shallow and even
less human because they cannot convey emotion as well (Sanchez1).
There are many other anime-common features of
the face. The characters mouths, like the eyes, are also used to express feelings. Often, in times of great emotion, the characters mouth will grow to take up half of
their face. This is common when they are mad, shouting, or exaggerating something. The mouths are just as likely to grow smaller and thinner. This is used when they are sad, talking softly, or talking about something bad. Even the faces of anime characters are drawn similar. They
typically take the form of a triangle with the jaw and chin coming to a point. This
is a very eccentric style used often, but the characters faces still differ from one another, particularly with age and sex
Another common feature is the unnatural and every-color-of-the-rainbow
hair. There is a method to this madness, though.
For one, the vibrant colors help the viewer keep the characters apart. Often
times the artist will have no set scheme for drawing the characters; therefore, the men and women’s bodies can end up
looking the exact same. The different colors also help add uniqueness to the
characters. Not everyone can have blue hair and pull it off. Multi-color hair also helps to accentuate the different personalities the characters may have. Blue haired people tend to be calmer, red haired people tend to have strong or brash personalities, purple
hair may allude to someone with a very flamboyant nature, and white hair may symbolize someone mysterious (Sanchez1).
The bodies of anime characters usually sport
long legs that take up two thirds of the characters height. Both women and men
normally have extremely thin waist lines. The women almost always have overly
large hips and bosoms. The only time this tends to change is when the girl is
supposed to come off as younger, boyish, or a running gag as in Slayers. In this movie the main female is a cop, but still very feminine.
She is a contradiction to the normal drawing style with her smaller bosom. Therefore,
there are jokes made about her smaller figure weaved throughout the entire show. The sex and age of the characters plays a large part in their body’s shape. Men are almost always taller then women. Young
children are extremely small, while older children are the same size as adults. Then,
if they happen to reach old age, in the anime world the grandparents are often the size of children (Features).
One feature that is used mainly in comedy is
the Super-Deformity mode; also know as “chibi mode.” This is when
a normal sized character goes into a smaller form of themselves to “increase comedic reactions and expressions to the
situations.” Its one of those things that is never really explained and
the other characters just go about their business. It is the physical action
of someone taking all their emotions, pulling them together, and letting them all fly out.
It is not out of the ordinary in anime world (Sanchez1).
There are also many different facial expressions
used to express emotion in Anime. These are common in all the genres whether
it be comedy, action, or drama. The emotions of characters can change quickly,
therefore the transition can be hard to catch without these eccentric’s. Certain
symbols are used, like teardrops. These can be used to “express embarrassment,
stress, nervousness, or realization of stupidity in themselves or other characters.”
Pulsating veins are also commonly used to show anger or frustration. They
grow as emotion grows. Eyes also change shape and structure often. They will swirl to express confusion or fatigue, or they can go star or heart-shaped to show a dreamy imagination
or the arrival of somebody they desire (Features).
Anime, a genre within itself, can be divided further into many genres and subgenres.
There are the regular genres such as romance, action, comedy, sci-fi, drama, adventure, fantasy, martial arts and so
on. There are gender and age specific shows that are aimed at young children,
adults, girls, and boys. Beyond the regular genres there are more anime-specific
genres as well. For example, there is “mecha” anime, which is action-based
and has a common theme of robots or machines. Souji anime is made mainly for
young girls and combines the genres of drama and romance. Another kind genre
specific anime is hentai. This is made for adults and is sexually oriented, going
so far as to have pornographic themes. The subgenre hentai alone can even be
divided into four other subgenres. There is General (male, female relationship),
Yaoi (male, male relationship), Yuri (female, female relationship), and Tentacle/Creature (horror based in which monsters
attack and sleep with human girls) (Sanchez2).
There are many typical themes and plot devices that can be found throughout
anime. There is technology verses mankind, magic verses some destroying force,
the right of passage, or the learning of people to coexist with each other (Hallel).
Anime also commonly combines more than one genre together. This practice
can be found in just about every film. For example, Evangelion would be considered a "mecha" anime, “but it also features a deep story involving conspiracy,
betrayal, and self-pity for its characters.” Another example of combining genres can be found specifically in Rurouni Kenshin (Sanchez2). This
would be considered as part of the martial arts genre, but this series also features a love story deep and sad enough to make
you cry (I know I did.) Martial arts and action go hand in hand in almost every
film, but there is a kind of mystery to the action shown in this series, adding in the influence of another genre. There is also the common combination of fantasy, action, and romance seen in films such as Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. These genres are woven so thoroughly throughout this movie that it is hard to put it into just one. It could be described as fantasy, but that just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Other movies may sport these same genres but in a completely different manner, such
as Voices of a Different Star, directed by Makoto Shinkai. It has the mecha form of action, its sci-fi and fantasy elements
go hand and hand, but through it all the love story is the main theme (Common).
A complete list of different genres and some examples of them can be found at http://www.geocities.com/sheedo_h/p4.html.
As always with fans, there is an “ongoing controversy in anime fandom over the preference between viewing anime
that has been subtitled or re-dubbed into English.” With VHS tapes there
was always the question of which type to buy. It really depended on the people
that were going to watch it. The companies went a long with whichever audience
was more likely to buy the movie. For younger audiences the movies are typically
re-dubbed, but for the other people subtitles are normally put in place. It was
an issue, however, if you wanted the opposite of what it came in, or you wanted both.
With DVD’s the issue has become considerably less debated. Most
disks will include all the different selections, both re-dubbed and subtitled. These
movies, like other movies, might have the special features on a separate disk. Uncut
versions and dubbed versions may not all come together. Which way is the right
way to go though? Some people will argue that dubbed over versions completely
take away from the movie. However, some people think the English voice-overs
make it easier to follow the story and appreciate the animation. The war over
which anime is the right anime rages on (Williams).
To put to rest a common misconception, anime is not new! It dates as far back as 1917, when three five minute films
were made by three individuals, not companies. These films started as dramatizations
of Oriental folk tales and were told with Japanese artistic devises. Anime has
progressed along similar to how live-action film has. It went from the silent/black
and white era to animated talkies such as Chikaro To Onna No Yononaka in 1932, the first anime talkie. It was not until 1955 that anime had its first full-color movie, Kimba
the White Lion (Patten).
At the beginning of the 1930’s, anime began to take on a Western feel with its fast-paced comedic quips. These films began to reflect the militaries influence in Japan. In fact, the first animated
feature film, Momotaro's Gods-Blessed Sea Warriors, featured the Imperial
Navy in animal form, and was paid for by Japan’s
Imperial military government. After this, the economy suffered a blow, causing
the growth of anime to suffer (Patten).
1947, when Osamu Tezuka began animating films and writing manga, anime began to gain popularity. Also known as the “God of Manga,” Tezuka’s style of anime is still commonly used today.
He relied heavily upon Western influences, such as Walt Disney, for his basic
design of characters and backgrounds. In the early 1950’s, a man named
Hiroshi Okawa created the “Disney” of Japan,
the Toei Film Company. Another famous company was founded by none other than
Tezuka, called Mushi Productions (and responsible for the aforementioned Kimba.) With the 80’s came many of the common dramas popular in today’s anime. Mech became popular in America,
paving the way for other anime series. The birth of popular anime such as Dragon Ball Z came around this time as well.
Even hintai anime began to be produced around the same time, even though it was not at first allowed within America (McCarter).
Many ideas for anime series come from manga or other forms of Japanese comics.
One example of this is Nausicaš of the Valley of Wind. This was originally a comic drawn by Hayao Miyazaki for a popular magazine called Animage. Original examples of this come from some of the first anime, like Astro Boy. After this, around 1984 OVA became a very popular form of anime and the most common type found in America. Currently, anime uses Hollywood
conventions of filmmaking such as its camera work and mise-en-scene. Anime characters
are also often used in Japan as a form
of advertisement. Anime sometimes retells other stories that were live-action, such as Metropolis,
fashioned after the silent film by Fritz Lang (Patten).
Currently, anime has seen an explosion in the USA. In 1999, Pokemon was the highest rated
kid’s show on television. James Cameron is even negotiating a $20 million
anime with Bandai Visual. Desperate to export all they can to the U.S., Japanese based publishing houses are looking through
all their back material for more ideas. Many of these shipped anime are edited
for America. Nudity is cut out, and chopsticks are changed to forks and knives.
Maybe not all of the stories will sell, but the characters in these stories are likely to. It is a race to introduce the kids of America
to a new world of “cartoons” (Fulford).
gets its unique style from particular artistic influences that date as far back as the 1100’s. To best understand manga, it may help to associate it with America’s
comic books. Manga is filled with anime, or vise versa. Many popular manga series are often turned into OVA or TV series. American comics are often known for their
vibrant usage of color and the most common form is a comic “book.” Anyone
that owns an American drawn comic book knows that they really more closely resemble a magazine. Unlike America, Japanese
manga are released in black and white, small volumes, containing several stories. As
someone who owns manga, I can vouch that these have the feel of actual books, and are just as popular in Japan. They can
be released individually, but more often than not a book will follow (Le).
Japanese manga is a driving force in the industry today. This industry
completely surpasses all other comic producing companies it is such a large-scale convention.
The exact number of magazines dedicated to manga is unknown; but there are thirteen weekly manga magazines at the core
of the entire operation. Manga magazines boast a larger fan base than any other
non-manga magazines in Japan (History
Artists who draw manga are known as "manga-ka," meaning “comic artist.”
There are around 3,000 known manga artists in Japan,
all of which have published at least one volume of their works. It is more common,
however, for these artists to work underneath the better known artists. Only
the best of the best, about 10% of the artists, are able to make a living off of only creating manga despite the large demand
In Europe it is common to divide manga into three categories, economic, erotica, and
violent. However, there is much controversy over this. It is argued that there are so many different sides to manga that it is impossible to divide it. Like anime, it has many different genres, and when one tries to name them all they combine and split even
further. Also similar to anime, the issues and drawings change as the time do. It runs anywhere from information manga, which are study guides for children, to public
relation governmental manga, which deals with subjects such as history and science and known as “textbook manga.” This exploitation did not really start to take place until it was noticed that manga
was becoming a veritable force to be reckoned with (History a2).
manga can be very much like watching a movie. The most common type of manga is
Historical manga, which mainly deals with samurai warriors. Even these have a
lot to do with economical issues of the country. For example, when Japan lost in World War II, manga stayed away from historical
themes for the better part of seven years. Another popular form of manga is the
comical approach. These can be divided into subgenres such as satirical manga,
which deals with social issues and features caricatures. Another division is
called nonsense manga, which pokes fun at everyday common sense. Gag manga is
another popular type that started in the 1960’s and is sometimes used to define all comedic manga. Shojo manga, which is only found in Japan,
is one of the most popular types of manga. It is written to target women audiences
in particular. These soap-opera “new wave” manga’s often take
manga deprived countries by surprise. These comics take on a code and animation
style all their own (History 2-4).
Two of the largest manga publishers such as Viz
and Tokyopop have also taken it upon themselves to distribute anime via the similarities between the two. Likewise, Bandai, a company known for their anime industry, is all set to launch a manga program in the
U.S. by the spring of 2005. It is just like in the U.S. If I read a good book or cartoon, I think it would be cool if it was turned into a
movie, like Spider-man. In Japan if someone is a particular fan of a manga series, they
will want to see it as an anime (Reid).
Tokyopop itself publishes about 400 manga per
year. Manga is not as big a market in America as anime is, but they claim that all it needs is time. Their anime branch has been ever helpful in marketing their manga series.
They send out less anime a year than most companies, but this is just a ploy, used to gain extra exposer. With the extra money that they use to make commercials, or send their movie to DVD, it also encourages fans out looking for the books and merchandise related to those properties (Reid).
Francisco based company Viz, is the pioneering manga company in the U.S. With this success they have gone on to distribute anime such as the popular Inuyasha series. Anthony Jiwa, the marketing director, explains how
anime and manga are linked. Manga is so detailed that it provides a lot of background
for anime movies that just didn’t have enough time to cover everything. Somehow
between Japan and America
the wires have gotten crossed though. I Japan the most popular manga series will
be turned into an anime series or movie. In America the most popular anime will constitute the manga comics that inspired
them to be shipped over and sold (Reid).
Anime reflects upon typical Japanese culture
and what is part of the norm. Often, anime themes are “presented quite subtly and as a part of the "normal" practice
of things; but someone watching a certain anime series may still pick up these cultural references and may or may not understand
them.” Mainly, these references deal with and include Japanese culture. It can range anywhere from why a person prays after eating a meal, to why people take
their shoes off before entering a house. It’s not necessary to understand all these insights to appreciate and enjoy
anime. It may seem that the most random actions are taking place, when really
it is just the norm in Japan. One strange example of this is anime and its use of nudity. Japan,
stereotyped as very uptight and traditional, is more open to the idea of nudity. In
the middle of a scene for no real reason a character will just show up naked or absent a shirt. What really seems strange is that it comes at very random times.
For example, Vampire Hunter D showed absolutely no nudity throughout most
of the movie. Then, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, a knife is flashed and
a woman’s chest is revealed. There is no explanation as to exactly why
Japan is more open with nudity, but that
does help explain such cases in their anime (Sanchez1).
Some anime openly deal with issues that live-action films dare not. The
movie Grave of the Fireflies deals with serious issues such as war, starvation,
and death. This is no children’s cartoon.
It features Japan during the time
of war and delves into real-life problems that were presented at that time. The
main characters are merely children, forced to fight a loosing battle against starvation due to World War II. This scenario was common in these times, but would be next to impossible to depict realistically as a live-action
movie. Making this storyline as an anime took away all limitations such as acting,
sets, location, and so on.
Anime films are made for a wide variety of audiences and often put forth
many serious or deep questions to think on. Just like in art or poetry, anime
questions life and the way to live, or dwells on cultural or economical issues. The Ghost in the Shell goes as deep as to ponder what makes a human, and if humans
have a soul. This mecha anime tells of a time in the future when people can have
body parts replaced by machines, and some people go as far as to be completely made over.
Gender becomes a convention in that their bodies are just shells that inhabitants live in and can exchange. Kusanagi, the main character in the first one, claims to only be female because the body she wears matches
her favorite watch. It put forth the question, at what point do
people stop being human (Sandberg)?
Anime can also deal with current issues. The movie Jinro features a tragic love story between a rebellious girl and a man in the secret services, both of which are
victims of political programs, making this film a political allegory. This film
is pervaded by melancholy and denied desires that are repressed due to the patriarchal society. In Jinro assumptions and suggestions are made at a link between
the post-war Japanese state and anti-left crusaders. It shows Japan in a sociopolitical situation that pokes fun at the government and choices it makes (Freiberg).
Another example of real-life themes found in anime comes from Hayao Miyazaki.
In both Princess Mononoke and Nausicaš of the Valley of Wind both political and economical concerns are raised.
In his films the forests are in trouble and there are battles over who is right and wrong. I think another example in Miyazaki’s
films that are often overlooked is his use of the unconventional bad guy. Often,
the villains in his movies don’t really see the wrong of what they are doing.
They are not trying to be evil for evil’s sake; they are only looking at one side of the problem. Like Lady Eboshi in Mononoke. She wants to do what
is best for her people, and she is a good, caring, and loved woman, but she does not think ahead to the outcome of her actions. Maybe this is Miyazki’s way of telling the world that there are bad guys all
over, even though they wish to do well. Maybe it even asks us to look inside
ourselves to see if we are perhaps the bad ones (Hayao).
Like many themes in anime, a characters
sexuality is almost never the main point; it’s just taken for granted that the audience understands. It is in these assumed relationships that the common theme of homosexuality finds itself. For example, in Cardcaptor Sakura it is mentioned often how
strange it is that Sakura’s older brother, Touya, and his inseparable best friend Yukito do not have girlfriends. Touya claims to love someone else, but it is never said who, it only implies that
it may be his friend. There are many debated relationships such as this one in
many different shows; ranging from Sailor Moon to X (Solomon).
Out of the different types of hintai anime comes a large yet unspoken difference in Japanese and American culture. Yaoi, the aforementioned romances between gay men, are
created by women for female audiences. Just like in American pop culture where
a lot of lesbian imagery is made for men, just the opposite is done in Japan. The male relationships in anime are typically made for females to view and enjoy. At the conventions held for Yaoi manga at least 85% of the population there are straight
There is a common theme of suggested cross-dressing found in many anime. Starting
with Tokyo Godfathers’ homeless transvestite to Ranma Ĺ’s main character Ranma Saotome, these types of characters have always been very common. In Ranma Ĺ the main character, a male martial artist, turns into a red haired woman when
he is hit with cold water, then returns to his true form when hit with hot. It
just seems natural to have a man turn into a woman in anime. There is also a
common use of women’s voices for male characters and vice versa. Even in
obviously strait characters this method is used to create a kind of openness. In
Rurouni Kenshin the main male
character, the deadliest assassin in the world, has a female’s voice. With
his long hair and small figure he is easily mistaken for a woman. Even though
this is a love story between a man and a woman, there is a suggestion at homosexuality (Solomon).
How does one categorize anime? It truly is in a category of its own, but which one? There
is a definite use of cinematography, just like in live-action films. Grave
of the Fireflies was shot in a very yellow light with bright blasts of light. Light
will shine on one particular character to make them standout, but it isn’t really light.
It is just the way it is drawn. One issue that baffles the mind is that
of camera angles. There are definitely different angles used, similar to those
in live-action, but there a camera is not really used. Once again, it is just
the angle the characters are drawn at. When watching anime I find myself thinking
“Man that was a great shot,” but how exactly would these shots be categorized?
I think that like anime is a genre to itself, we may have to find a new way to describe such aspects of mise-en-scene
and camera work that are featured in anime. There is an undeniable beauty to
the artwork and animation that is used in anime. Even the movie posters have
a certain real-life feel to them. It is just hard to put it into words. How do you describe something that is meant to be realistic looking, but isn’t