I dearly loved animated movies as a child and it is something I've carried with me into adulthood, even middle adulthood. Cartoons however? Those things I could watch for hours on a Saturday morning when young? Not so much. The difference is that is important I think is long-arc storytelling and character development - animated movies have it (to some degree), your average Saturday morning American cartoon does not.
So how does episodic Anime fit into this? What is Anime? In the last couple years I have been gently exposed to this form of entertainment and recently went on a spree. I know next to nothing about it except that when I land on the right one, I really enjoy it. It's great escapist entertainment! The key thing that make Anime TV shows work for me is that they are more focused on long form story telling and on character development.
Wikipedia actually has a nice relatively concise article on Anime. A few things I want to pull out are:
- In a strict sense Anime is animation created in Japan. If the definition is relaxed it is a style of animation, that originated in Japan. Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE) is an example of an Anime inspired work created in U.S. This show, along with the Studio Ghibli films, represent my initial encounters with Anime and I think they were good gateway drugs as it were, for me as an American.
- The animation is very distinctive. Some characteristics are: bright colors, lush backgrounds, exaggerated facial features, representative facial expressions, exaggerated emotions, still images with camera movement.
- To quote directly from the Wikipedia article: "Once the expectation that the aspects of visual intrigue or animation being just for children is put aside, the audience can realize that many emotions such as suffering, death, pain, struggle, and joy can all be storytelling elements utilized in anime as much as other types of media." This is the most intriguing and important aspect for me. The Anime I have watched and enjoyed the most float along a line that makes them satisfying for both young and adult - kind of like YA books. They are simple and straightforward enough to be fun but have a depth and complexity of character and relationships that makes them satisfying. It is amazing how a set catalog of facial expressions are used to capture fairly complicated interactions.
- Animes can be any genre.
- There are different kinds of Anime (and Manga) that are not representative of different genres but of intended audiences. I just tracked this down and read about it for this post and it both elucidates and confuses things for me. I think this is useful to know and I'm hoping that it will help me be a little better at tracking down some Animes I will like, however it is still a little mystifying.This article describes things very basically though in short: a) Shonen or Shuonen: Boys under the age of 15; b)Seinen: Boys over 15; c) Shojo: Equivalent of Shuonen for girls; d) Josei: For adult women; e) Kodomomuke: For children.
- As with K Dramas, the heroes that seemed to be preferred romantically speaking are arrogant fellows who scowl and yell at the object of their affection rather than expressing themselves to her coherently. They instead show their love through being possessive, protective and by the fact that they yell at her a lot. This is likely not going to work for everyone, so be aware. Also this is based on a pretty small sample size.
Voltron: Legendary Defender (?)
I'm pretty sure this Netflix re-boot isn't technically Anime but it does feel anime-ish to me? But what do I know? Nothing, that's what! Nevertheless, I charge forth. This is a really fun space opera about a long-sleeping civilization that awakes to challenge the evil overlords of the universe. They fight said evil overlord by recruiting 4 teenagers and one young man as knights bonded to giant robot tigers who can combine to form an even gianter evil-fighting robot named Voltron. The characters are great (Pidge and Hunk are my faves) and it's an iconic and cracking story. I also like that the show combines space-technology and magic. PLUS - semi-sentient tiger robots that combine to form another even more bad-ass robot. What's not to like? This is in English.
4 out of 5 Stars
This was my first honest-to-goodness Anime. It's on the older side, airing from 2000 to 2004, and it is quite popular and very long - 160+ episodes! I watched the first 2 seasons subtitled (Netflix) and the rest of the series dubbed (Hulu) - both were good.
It tells the story of schoolgirl Kagome, who lives at a shrine and one day by accident gets pulled into a sacred well. Instead of hitting bottom she ends up 500 years in the past, roughly 50 years after the Priestess she is the re-incarnation of has died. Almost immediately she awakens a half dog-demon boy, Inuyasha, who is under an enchantment placed on him by the Priestess before she died. Turns out Inuyasha was after the Shikon jewel which has great power and could help him transition into full demon. Kagome now has the Shikon jewel under her protection but in a scuffle with another demon it is broken into hundreds of shards and scattered across feudal Japan. Kagome and Inuyasha rather grumpily team up to find and gather the jewel shards and along the way add a lecherous Monk, Miroku, a demon slayer, Sango and a young fox demon name Shippo to their gang.
I had mixed feelings about this Anime for the first 2 seasons or so. It is a really fun fantasy quest series that alternates between one off episodes and episodes that move the overall story arc ahead. One of the biggest complaints from others is that it went on too long and it's a fair criticism but I mostly enjoyed it for some escapist watching all the way until the end. The characters, both the good guys and bad guys, are great and most all have emotionally interesting and nuanced arcs of their own. The show overall was a confusing mix for me of childish and adult themes. Much of the humor is quite juvenile and Inuyasha can be incredibly immature but a lot of the themes and language are a good bit more complex and adult then I expect to find in kid's entertainment. I would put it pretty solidly in YA.
I liked it especially because it had an interesting, though often frustrating romance sub-plot. The romance takes up just the right amount of screen time and I had no problem rooting for Kagome and Inuyasha. The interesting AND frustrating part revolve mostly around the fact that there is a love triangle. Inuyasha was in love with someone else when he was enchanted and while his feelings for Kagome develop he never, and I mean never, lets go of his former love. I think in the end it worked for me and was quite affecting but during the middle parts I would get irritated with Inuyasha. He has no problem expressing how he feels to his initial love but is completely unable to do this with Kagome. He is just super jealous and protective of Kagome but when pushed he denies his feelings and even gets surly, so Kagome is constantly confused on where she stands with him. It's odd but seems to be a particularly favored trope because I've run into it a few times (see #6 above).
3.75 out of 5 Stars
This is a very new (2016) science fiction Anime featuring fighting robots and it is available on Netflix. In my mind it is a shorter, science fiction version of Inuyasha. The storyline is different of course but there are a lot of similar elements. Since I was looking for something like Inuyasha this really worked for me but seasoned Anime watchers may just find it dull!
What are the similarities? A gang of young people, with a young sumarai Ken and young feckless woman Yukina at its core, save the world from destruction by evil beings. The trajectory of Ken and Yukina's relationship is exactly the same as Inuyasha and Kagome's, though compressed, from how Ken and Yukina's starting character arc evolves to the end, to Ken being obsessed with a woman from his original life who miraculously shows up back from the dead, and Ken being clueless about how his obsession hurts Yukina etc... I found it satisfying in the end but I noticed a number of folks found the end frustrating, so be aware.
Where it differs? It takes place in modern day Japan at a U.N. research facility and the bad guys are Aliens who pilot giant fighting robots and whose aim is to take over the world. They have visited the Earth once before, 500 years in the past when Ken (Oma Kennosuke Tokisada) was a Samurai pledged to a nobleman's house. Somehow, he was sealed in an "artifact" which re-awakens him when the aliens show up in the present day. In some ways, it could maybe be seen as a hybrid between Voltron and Inuyasha:). It also has a great secondary cast, with Sophie, the self-contained French warrior/teenage girl (blond above), being a particular favorite. Of course all the Americans on the U.N. base are kind of assholes (but loveable nonetheless), lol.
I really enjoyed this 26 episode Anime but my impression is that more experienced Anime watchers were frustrated with its lack of originality. I think it might be a good one to start with though! This also has some language and adult themes and is solidly YA+ in tone.
4 out of 5 Stars
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime or Snow White with the Red Hair
I watched the first 4-5 episodes of this 12 episode show that features a girl with unusual red hair. She encounters and becomes friends with a Prince in episode one and quickly becomes a Court herbalist. There is no strong over-arching plot except for perhaps the love story between the Prince and Snow White. I found this one to be too treacly sweet and the romance too front and center for me. Every episode seemed to have some valuable lesson about how to be a good person and a supportive friend and partner. This perhaps should have been refreshing after the two Animes above with their emotionally immature protagonists but it just made me roll my eyes. The tone on this one also seemed decidedly younger and the character development was shallow at best. On the plus side the animation was beautiful. Dropped and will not continue.
2 out of 5 Stars
Kamisama Kiss or Kamisama Hajimemashita
Like the above, I just watched the first 3-4 episodes of this one before deciding it wasn't for me. It also seemed aimed at a younger audience and had a more frenetic and different animation style that I didn't entirely love. It tells the story of schoolgirl Nanami, who is abandoned by her father and ends up taking refuge in and consequently becoming the God of a shrine. As the God of this shrine she has a familiar, a fox demon name Tomoe. Initially, they hate each other but that quickly changes to attraction. There is no overarching story line besides clueless-girl-figures-out-how-to-be-a-God. Again the character development was pretty non-existent. Will not continue.
2 out of 5 Stars
Examining what I liked and disliked from the above, I think what I am looking for in an Anime is:
- Aimed at older young adults
- SFF Genre
- Engaging, overarching plot
- Subplot but NOT main plot romance
- Well-developed, moderately complex characters
I'm pretty sure none of the above would be characterized as Josei (anime aimed at adult women) so I think I will check one of those out soon. Otherwise I think Shojo and Shuonen are probably my thing as long as they shoot more for the upper end of their intended audience age bracket. Any recommendations?