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An Introduction to Anime
The appeal of Japanimation.

by S.E. Shepherd
November 2, 2001

An Introduction to Anime_S.E. Shepherd-The appeal of Japanimation. Anime, or Japanimation as it’s sometimes known, is still a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Ask the average American what Anime is and he or she will most likely respond, “Huh?” If you try to explain what it is, they’ll most likely respond, “Oh, it’s like that Pokemon thing my kids watch!” Well, yes and no. Pokemon is Anime, but it’s Anime for kids. There is a larger, adult medium of Anime that has created remarkable films well worth viewing.

I am no expert on Anime, just a casual fan, and aficionados of the genre could give you a much more in depth view than I could. However, as a fan, I feel it my duty to try to gain a larger audience and understanding of Anime. So if to you, Anime seems weird or silly or both, allow me the chance to introduce this exciting new genre.

Anime is closely related to the Japanese Manga, or graphic novel. Many Anime movies are adaptations of Mangas, and vice-versa. Characters of the genre are recognized by their overly large eyes and small noses and mouths, and main characters are usually adolescents or young adults. While most Anime carry a Science-Fiction theme, stories can cover romance, relationships, and even topics as somber as the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki.

To my knowledge, Anime was first introduced to the U.S. in the form of a TV series called “Astro Boy,” released in the early 60’s. I know very little about it, other than that the main character was a boy (robot?) who could fly. Much more familiar to American audiences was the series “Speed Racer,” about a racecar driver and his “thunderous Mark 5” racecar. Speed would overcome incredible odds and numerous villains to always win the very important race. Other series, such as “Battle of the Planets” and “Robotech” reached American airwaves during the 70’s and 80’s, but the Anime films were mostly lost on American audiences.

Then, in 1988, “Akira,” became the first Anime film released for mainstream American theaters. “Akira” is a masterful film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. It tells the tale of a gang of motorcycling street punks in Neo-Tokyo 2017. One member begins developing strange telekinetic powers, and the military seeks him out to control him. Much more violent and gory than anything Disney would even dream of making, “Akira” is nonetheless visually stunning and breathtaking. Never before and never since have I seen animation move with such fluidity.

Since “Akira,” several Anime films have had American theatrical releases; each reaching larger audiences and much critical acclaim, though the vast majority of Anime is still released direct-to-video here in America. Like all genres, Anime has its good films and bad films, so for those uninitiated to the world of Anime, allow me to suggest several titles to whet your appetite. Again, aficionados may find fault with my list, but I repeat my position as a casual fan, and not an expert on the genre.

1. “Akira” – Again, this is the film that started it all. The plot is sometimes difficult to follow, and the violence may be more graphic than you’re used to, especially in an animated film, but for vision and artistry, very few films can match “Akira”

2. “Ghost in the Shell” – Another film released in movie theaters across America, 1996’s “Ghost in the Shell” will remind viewers of “Blade Runner,” though I feel Masamune Shirow poses the question of human sentience much better. What makes human existence “real?” If we put the “essence” of a human being into a machine, would it still be a machine or would it be human?

3. “Princess Mononoke” – Released in America in 1999, “Princess Mononoke” is an excellent film set in a medieval land, where the age of myth and gods comes into conflict with the age of man and progress. It is a tale where no character is evil, just determined to fulfill his or her agenda. “Princess Mononoke” is also the first Amine film released in America to use the voice talents of well-known American actors.

4. “The Mystery of Mamo” – Part of a series of films, starring its main character, master thief Arsene Lupin III and his offbeat sidekicks, “Mystery of Mamo” isn’t as well drawn as some of the other Anime films. However the characters and dialogue make this one of the funniest and most enjoyable Anime films I’ve seen. Described as Indiana Jones meets the Marx brothers, it is a nice change of pace from the more serious films listed above.

Even without seeing these films, one can see the impact Anime has had on American movies. 1999’s “The Matrix” has been aptly described by some as a “live-action” Anime film. Disney’s “Atlantis” attempted to create a bridge between the traditional Disney films and the more adult-oriented stories of Anime. Even in Disney’s “Tarzan,” the characters’ eyes are much larger and more expressive, like those of Anime characters.

Anime is more than “cartoons for adults.” It is a legitimate art form, and should not be scorned because it falls into the realm of animation. At it’s best, Anime tells stories in ways that would be impossible to tell in a live action movie. It takes us to fascinating worlds with complex stories and complex characters. If you haven’t seen Anime, then you haven’t seen story telling at its best.

About the Author:
S.E. Shepherd is really Racer X.

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