“Anime” (pronounced “Annie-May”) is a slang word used by both western and Japanese fans of animation. Japanese fans use the term for both domestic and foreign animation. When you and I use the word, we are always referring specifically to Japanese animation. Same thing with “otaku,” the Japanese word for people with obsessive interests. We use it as a specific label, in Japan it can mean being a big fan of cars, the military etc.
While most of you reading this probably grew up watching Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z back in the day, anime has only recently broken into the mainstream. Which is odd, considering that anime has been broadcast in North America since the 1960s, with classic shows like Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy and Speed Racer running in syndication in parts of the world to this day since then.
Quite a few of our parents probably were anime fans too without realizing it. The credits of the Japanese cast and crew were never shown. Which makes sense, I guess. It was the height of the Cold War, and our grandparents had fought the Japanese in WWII, or had been exposed to racist propaganda as children. We were wary of anything too foreign back then.
Like with most things relating to geek culture, anime can appear baffling, and dare I say even harmful, to non-fans. Some might think it’s just grown men and women liking kid’s stuff, or the plots are way too convoluted and silly to get into; they may think it may be too violent, sexual and dark for teens and kids to watch (the harem, shounen and hentai (porn)) genres are the worst offenders in this regard). Or most people think it’s a growing trend of Japanophilia among us youth, which it certainly is.
The big eyes, small triangle noses, ridiculous hairdos, and bad English dubbing are enough of a turn off. Heck, watching something in another language can be weird enough. I wouldn’t have adapted to watching anime subtitled if I didn’t like to read so much to begin with.
Anime comes with its own list of tropes, clichés and sub-genres; learning otaku jargon is a hassle all on its own. Go onto any anime forum, and you’ll be bombarded with weird jargon like: “tsundere” “yandere”, “moe” (pronounced “mo-eh”), “kawaii”, “waifu”, and “NEET” to name some of the most commonly used terms. Then of course you have the obvious cultural barriers to work through. All anime contains lots of references to Japanese history, culture, social values and religion on top of everything else.
So why am I arguing that anyone can be a fan, when it seems like you would need to have a degree in Asian Studies or a lot of free time on your hands to make sense of this stuff?
To understand why I love anime so much, I’m going to have explain in a bit of detail the different ways in which Japanese and North Americans view animation.
Disney’s family-friendly public image had dominated the industry in North America for so long, that we naturally assume that cartoons are for children. On one of my favorite websites, TV Tropes, this belief/phenomena is known as the “animation age ghetto”: a negative bias that makes a lot of people believe that any animation that tries to buck the trend by appealing more to adults then to kids is bad, because they take their kids to see movies like Secret of the Kells, or put in that old VHS tape of Fritz the Cat, and recoil in horror and disgust at the creators for exposing impressionable young minds to “dark” and “adult” topics. Yes, we got animation for adults too, but The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy are still mostly the exception, not the rule.
If you know anything about animation history, then you will know that most animation from the “Golden Age” was intended for adults, not children. Bugs Bunny, Mickey, Woody Woodpecker and Felix the Cat seem far more tame to us now because of a shift in cultural values. Walt Disney himself, without whom we wouldn’t have so many animated classics, said: “You’re dead if you only appeal to kids. Adults are just grown up kids anyways”.
Now Japan, on the other hand, treats animation like any other medium. There is animation for adults, children, men, women, and yes, even the perverts. The existence of Japanese animated porn has caused the biggest moral outrage among parents.
And despite my personal feelings about porn, I believe this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the fault of American retailers for putting stuff like La Blue Girl and Urotsukidoji in the goddamn kid’s section; just put a sticker on the box saying “18+,” “Mature,” “Definitely Not For Kids!” or whatever rating system you use, problem solved.
Anime, unlike My Little Pony or other kid’s entertainment, is undisputedly for everyone. There is a show for everyone, no matter you’re personal tastes, mindset or ideology. With the rise of video streaming, video sharing sites and the growth of distribution companies which provide high-quality English dubs for fans who have trouble following subtitles (Funimation & Aniplex are the two biggest), getting into anime has never been easier. There are even quite a few shows that could be considered high art; stuff that would fit easily into a philosophy or English class syllabus. People whose only exposure to anime sadly being Yu-gi-oh, Dragon Ball or Pokemon might understandably might laugh at the idea, but it’s true. Hayao Miyazaki is hardly the only example of high quality Japanese animation. There are literally hundreds, thousands of talented people that deserve to be recognized. I’ve been an otaku for thirteen years, and there’s so much left to discover; I hope you’ll take this journey with me.
To help you get started, I’ve composed a short list of some of my favorite series. All these shows have good dubs, so don’t worry too much about subtitles. My tastes lean towards sci-fi and fantasy, but I’ve tried to include as broad a sample as I could. If you wish to learn more about a show, two excellent websites to use would be My Anime List or Anime News Network. Remember, these picks are my personal opinion, so no bashing or whining in the comments section please.
- Cowboy Bebop (Sci-fi/Action/Dramedy)
- Trigun (Sci-fi)
- Outlaw Star (Sci-fi/Action/Adventure)
- Hunter X Hunter (Kid’s Action/Adventure)
- Now and Then, Here and There (Fantasy/Drama/Action) Warning: This one is very dark and deals with a lot of uncomfortable subject matter.
- Kino’s Journey (Slice-of-Life/Fantasy)
- Haibane Renmei (Slice-of-Life/Fantasy)
- Paranoia Agent (Psychological Thriller)
- Great Teacher Onizuka (High School Comedy)
- Nana (Drama)
- Ookiku Furikabutte aka Big Windup! In the English dub (Sports)
- Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Epic Fantasy)
- Vision Of Escaflowne (Fantasy/Action/Adventure)
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor (Sci-fi/Parody)