Essay

The New Age in Animation

by

Darius M. Cureton

 

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     When one thinks about the cartoons of the past, like TigerSharks, ThunderCats, and G.I. Joe, one will remember the rich story lines, the wild character profiles, and the inspiring battle cries of "Yo Joe" and "Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats, Ho!!" With technology changing every day, a new form of animation has arisen. This new form is called "Japanimation" or "Anime." It is slowly becoming a part of this culture just as much as hamburgers and pizza. It still has a long way to go, but it is slowly creeping into the American genre of animation.

     As one writer has noted, "The word 'Anime,' contrary to popular belief, is not the Japanese word for animation. Though the word is used in Japan to describe animation, it is actually derived from a French word" (Barlow 1). Although film and animation in the U.S. are different, in Japan they are the same. Many Americans still have the belief that animation is strictly for kids, but in Japanese culture it is for boys, girls, men, and women. Animation in Japan does not just limit itself to Saturday Morning cartoons. In American animation, no one dies and no one gets hurt. The evil villain's plans are defeated, but the villain himself escapes to hatch a new villainy in the next episode. One great difference between Japanese and American TV series is that the Japanese TV series is designed to last only one or two seasons, 13 or 26 episodes, and then come to a climatic and definite ending. There are many available genres. "One of the MAJOR differences between Anime and U.S. animation is the quality of storytelling and level of understanding at which the story develops" (Barlow 1). Though things are changing in the U.S. regarding animation, the level at which animation is geared toward is still child-like. It is almost insulting to young minds. Anime expands the level of consciousness of the viewer. It makes one think about the outcomes and the foreshadowing of the story and it raises the level of imagination by producing nearly impossible feats of courage and technology. A lot of animation has made its way to the U.S. Some shows include Speed Racer, Astro Boy, Voltron, and Robotech. These shows were ones that hold watchers' attention for about 30 minutes each day.

     "In many ways, Anime is also a state of mind; a state of understanding that many Americans have trouble getting to" (Barlow 1). Many Americans do not accept animation as a medium for storytelling and believe it is meant for children. This is why Anime has not hit as powerfully in the states as it has in Japan and other countries. This is why there is hardly any market base for it.

     One reason why there is no market for it in the U.S. is that Anime is highly stereotypical. "The stereotype image of Japanese Anime and manga (Japanese comic books) has gotten worse lately" (Izawa 1). Non-watchers of Anime seem to think that it is all about "big eyes, big breasts, big hair, mechs (huge robots), and lots of gore." One example of this stereotype is a 30-minute show called Battle Suit Lakers EX. A company called Kitty produced this particular show. Kitty is known throughout the realm of Japanimaniacs as the "smut" of the art form. In this show, 5 well-endowed young women have battle suits that they don when trouble arises. The transformation sequence is done with the girls yelling out their suit name ("Bunny Laker! Kung Fu Laker! etc.) and then becoming totally nude until the suit fashions itself onto their bodies.

     Nevertheless, to say that all Anime is like this is a misconception. Although some Anime features these attributes, one should be able to see the whole concept. The main theme in Lakers is always to trust the companionship of good friends. It is very hypocritical to say that japanimation is wrong because of a few stereotypes. The idea of the big-breasts is no different than the idea of a very curvaceous super heroine, dressed very skimpy, with no personality or brains, or an overly developed muscle man who is the savior of the free world, which has been portrayed in American animation for years. This idea is not right in any culture.

     For the most part, manga and Anime have an open mind when it comes to sex. Sex is not as taboo in Japanese culture as it is in American culture. These sexual encounters are usually occasional and not central to the story. Most of the story lines involve some of the same concepts that American animation tries to convey. The only difference is that Anime does not present hour-and-a-half musicals featuring talking bears, lions, or dancing flatware. Japanese animation deals with deeper issues. For example, let's look at a series called Fushigi Yuugi. This series is about a girl (Miaka) and her best friend (Yui) who, when reading the Book of the 4 Gods of the Universe, are magically transported to ancient China. After meeting some interesting allies and becoming the Priestess of Suzaku (the savior of old China), Miaka has to battle the Priestess of Seiryuu (her rival and fiercest opponent who turns out to be Yui). Afterwards she realizes that caring for others and being cared for by others can overcome any adversity. She also has found that she has the strength and ability to make a difference as long as she does not give up. Although some of the stories involve impossible magical powers and robot-like Exo suits, Anime cuts out the sugarcoating to produce believable incidents.

     Next, we look at the categories of Japanese animation. In Japan, animation tends to be divided into 3 categories: theatrical releases (movies), original animation videos (OAV's or OVA's), and television series ("Anime" 2). A theatrical release is a movie shown in a theater to people who pay money to watch the Anime projected onto a large movie screen. "Michael Johnson, President of Disney Buena Vista Home Entertainment, along with Disney's Miramax is working to release 'Princess Mononoke' or 'Mononoke Hime' in U.S. theaters this summer" (Sherber 69). This is the story of a young girl dealing with the trials of life and the dangers that threaten her village. Most movies that play in the theaters run at least 70 minutes to slightly more than 2 hours. Movies also tend to have the highest quality animation because of the high budget.

     The OAV or OVAs are Anime released directly to videotape, laser disc or DVD. Videotapes are mainly used for video store rental. Most videos that you get from the video store are OAVs like Gatchaman and Ninja Scroll. OAVs can be any length from a few minutes to about 2 hours. Commonly they are 30, 45, or 60 minutes. The OAV tends to have less quality than a movie because the budget is not as high, but it has better quality than a TV series. If you make one episode of an OAV and it is popular, the series is continued. Otherwise, one would try a different approach for the next attempt.

     The TV series in Anime is regularly shown on a weekly basis. The typical length of a Japanimation series is about 13 or 26 episodes (one or two seasons. The television station is committed to only 13 episodes, more if it is renewed for another season. The content is designed to appeal to a mass market. There is little sex and violence, varying on when the program airs. Most TV series in Japan are about 25 minutes long. They have the lowest quality because they are rushed. The popular Sailor Moon series is an example of a TV series that was renewed for 7 seasons. It also is very popular among girls in the U.S.

     In conclusion, Japanese Animation is on the rise in the U.S. It is because of these very different elements that the market base is growing. The market for Japanese animation in the U.S. is still very small, but with determination and recognition within the next five years, it should be just as much an art form here as it is in its native country of Japan.

 

 

Works Cited

Barlow, Elaine. "About Anime." The Anime Online Network. <http://members.xoom.com/TMLMA/About_anime.htm> (3 Feb 1999).

Izawa, Eri. "The New Stereotypes of Anime and Manga." EX Online. Vol.2 Issue 8. 3 Feb 1999. <http://www.ex.org/2.8/45-essay_stereotypes.html>

Schodt, Fredrick L. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kodansha; IBSN. 1988.

Sherber, Anne. "Disney Looks to Expand Mainstream Presence of Japan's Anime." Billboard, May, 1998: 69.

"Anime and Manga in Japan and America." Essay. <http://members.xoom.com/animemania01/essay01.htm> (3 Feb 1999).

 

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Winston-Salem State University

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