All About Anime!

Posted: May 27, 2010 by silvertomatoproductions in Animation, Animation Editorials, Animation Reviews, Tomato Surprise
(Sidenote: Tomato here. Sadly, it’s time for more archival stuff. Hope you enjoy it! See you next week!)

Tomato here, armed with a new installment of The ScratchPad, your top source around the nation —- WAIT! We’re not in the nation today. Well, at least not THIS nation. And since we’ve sailed to the shores of Japan today, I think a different intro is in order:
単 語のまわりの生気のニュースのためのあなたの上の場所への歓迎! 行きなさい! スクラッチ・パッド!

Image from Asadal Thought

Yes, ladies and gents, today we’re setting sail to the distrant country of Japan to learn about their form of animation, known as anime. Because it’s such a broad topic, I’m dividing this post into four sections: What Is Anime?, Anime in the USA, Why Talk About Anime?, and Anime To Start With.
Let’s go!
Part 1: What Is Anime?

Anime is actually a very fluid term depending on where you live. In Japan, the word “anime” refers to ALL animation, regardless of what country it originated from. So, if you lived in Japan, Looney Tunes, Popeye, Snorks, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Scooby Doo, Yu Yu Hakusho, Eyesheild 21 and the Charmin ads would all be considered anime. In the good ol’ USA, however, anime has more of a pinpoint definition. Anime (I’ve no clue what the pronuniciation is, by the way, but I use An-ih-may. I’ve also heard Ah-knee-may, Ah-nime, like in dime, and Ay-knee-may.), when used over here, generally means animation that has come from the East, mainly Japan. For all intents and purposes, we’re talking about Japanese animation today.
There are a few traits common amongst almost all anime. Why don’t we tackle visual style first?

Anime has a distinct visual style that’s nigh-unmistakable. Take this image from the anime Lucky Star. What do you notice about the girls in the picture? First of all, almost every facial area has been exaggerated, almost caricatured, namely the eyes and mouth. This creates a very neat visual effect when animated, allowing for rubbery and comical facial expressions. Think classic Looney Tunes, MGM, or Mickey Mouse on steroids. Lots of steriods. The use of negative space on the eyes and large pupils and irises almost creates a glittering effect. Here’s a better image of what I’m trying to get across, totally, erm, borrowed from Wikipedia. It’s staring into your soul……

Then again, anime art styles don’t have to be pop-off-the-page cartoony, either. Here’s an example more subdued image of the catbus (do not adjust your screens, you did read that correctly.) from the Hayao Miyazaki movie My Neighbor Totoro.

Anime is also known for not being short at all. Sometimes anime is aired short, bite-sized miniseries called OVAs (original video animations). But, as a general rulle, these puppies are like cockroaches, that is to say long-lasting and hard to kill. Literally, the most popular series can run almost uninterrupted for a decade or more.

As a general barometer, I’ve found the subjects that anime covers to be more diverse than Western animation, although it’s important to note that that’s probably because only the best anime from Japan are brought over here. It’s not that there isn’t any anime that is complete crud, it’s just that we have the luxury of never, ever seeing it. But, I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s an anime for everyone. You want historical fiction? Help yourself. Romantic comedy? Ranma 1/2, second door from the right. Suspenseful mystery thriller? Hook yourself up with Death Note. Western? Meet Outlaw Star. Sci-fi? Say hi to Cyborg 009. Michael Bay-esque explosion-fest what you’re craving? One dosage of Dragon Ball Z should do the trick. You get the idea. For every pessimest who turns there nose up at anime, I can show them something and they’ll come back hooked. I’ll help you out with that in our last section.

But, for now, let’s investigate how anime from across the globe makes it’s way stateside.

Anime in the USA

Despite flourishing in Japan for decades, American broadcasters were hesitant to air anime. In the eighties, you were lucky if you could find a VHS with anime on it in the back of a cardboard box from an old garage sale, and even luckier if it had English subtitles. Some local public broadcasting stations aired subtitled anime in the mornings in the late eighties, but those were few and far between, and some had no buisiness even airing in that timeslot, plus they weren’t even in English. Y’see, to state it lightly, Japanese censors are a bit lax compared to US ones. This had and still has caused some parents about some anime that was for mature audiences being seen by not-so-mature children. Luckily, these days, cable channels know that some anime can’t be aired at 9:00 AM.

The one thing confining anime to early-morning bootleg-broadcast prison was that it never had a big, cash-cow show people could get behind, much less a network interested in airing one. That all changed in the mid-nineties with a little anime called Pokemon.

Pokemon, an anime based off of the hit video game series, was the first anime to really take off in America, and it found a home on Cartoon Network. It was a phenomenon in every sense of the word. Almost every kid in the nineties practically breathed Pokemon, and even my own house was always littered with Pokemon cards. Even today, a Pikachu balloon floats in the Macy’s Parade.

Naturally, everyone and their Aunt Agnus wanted a slice of the Pokemon cash cow. Their solution? Pick up more anime.
Cartoon Network, taking a cue from Pokemon’s success, created a legendary action-animation block on the network called Toonami, where many anime, including the equally popular Dragon Ball Z and the just-plain awesome Yu Yu Hakusho found it’s home. Throughout the 90’s, anime flowed from screen to screen in an event known as the anime boom. That boom has only just petered, thanks in part to the idiotic actions of the current ringmasters of Cartoon Network, but that’s for a future post.
“But,” you may be asking, “how exactly is anime brought over here?”
I’ll be happy to explain.
After the anime boom, several companies were formed to “dub” anime, the most notable ones being Funimation and 4Kids TV. These dubbing companies, and others similar to them, work like this. When they are interested in a particular anime, they must buy the US broadcasting rights from the original Japanese producers. They are then allowed to dub the anime over, and sell the episodes to a channel, until the lisence on the anime expires.
During the process of dubbing, translators take the Japanese dialougue and translate it to an English script, which is then read by American voice actors and played over the original Japanese animation. This is potentially problematic, because the animators of the original Japanese version made the characters’ lips match what the characters are saying in Japanese. Here’s an example from one of my favorite anime, Death Note.
A character named only L tells another character the Japanese words for “I am L”. These take six syllables to say in Japanese, but only three in English. Thus, in the English version, L says “I would like to tell you that I am L” to match the lip flaps. These kinds of edits are justifiable.
Stuff like changing a character’s cigar to a lollipop is not. I’m not even kidding you.

Edits like the one above are what lead many fans to never watch dubs. However, not all dubs are edited heavily, and some are not edited at all. In recent years, there has been increased pressure for dubbing companies to remain faithful to the original scripts and the original plot, causing mant anime to have darn faithful adaptions.

Still, some fans wish to watch the Japanese version with English subtitles. Many of these “subs” are fan-produved but in some cases, they’re worth it. For me, it depends on the show and the quality of its dub. If significant scenes of plot elements are cut, or if the edits detract in any way from the enjoyment of the show, I’ll go with the sub. If not, I’m inclined toward the dub.
I’ll give some advice on which versions of certain shows to watch in the final part. But, before then, let’s talk a little about why I did this post in the first place.
Why Talk About Anime?
If you can’t tell already, this is probably the most researched, detailed, and image-heavy post that I’ve done here at Ripe Thoughts, and I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t important to me. Anime, I’ve always found, and animation in general as well, is vastly underappreiciated. People think that every anime’s a toy advertisement. In reality, as I’ve said here before, and I’ll repeat, animation is a medium, just like books, TV, movies and so on. Animation’s evoked as many tears, screams, laughs, and ponderances in me as any other medium has. And yet, there are people who will turn up their noses and laugh when I compare Death Note to Hamlet, Detective Conan to Arrested Development, Yu Yu Hakusho to The Illiad. But, I know there are people who don’t even know about the joys of animation or just don’t think it’s for them. That’s why I did this post. I challange all of you who don’t know or don’t care about anime to take a half-hour of the holiday season break and watch one of the anime that I reccomend in the next part. You’ll never turn back.
Anime To Start With
Here’s how this’ll work. Title come first. By the title, in parenthesis, will be a link to the first episode. Next comes a picture of the show. Then, I’ll give a breif plot summary and an age range. Next, I’ll list some American TV shows or movies or books that are similar to this anime, so you can get a taste of whether it’s for you. Lastly, I’ll suggest whether to watch the dub or the sub, and tell you why.
Let’s begin.
1. Death Note (here*)

Plot: Meet teenaged prodigy Light Yagami. He makes Einstein look like one of the Three Stooges. As a result, he’s very bored. However, one day, a strange notebook falls from the sky and lands outside his school’s window. Did I mention how anyone who’s name you write in the book while vizualizing their face dies of a heart attack within a day? Umm, yeah. Turns out that note was dropped by a Shinigami, or death god, named Ryuk, who was simply bored as well and wanted to amuse himself by watching what a human would do with his death note. What does Light decide to do with the Death Note? The only rational thing someone could do with it, of course! Break into his father, the chief of police’s records, and kill every criminal the police either sent to jail or couldn’t catch.

However, the police get suspicious when criminals start dropping like flies, so they bring out their trump card, another genius who is faceless and nameless, communicating only by computer, known as L. By this time, the mysterious killings are making the news, and the public calls the mysterious figure they think is causing the deaths Kira. It becomes a game of speed chess between L, who Light can’t kill because he knows neither his face or true name, and Kira, who L can’t catch because his victims die of untracable heart attacks. Whomever catches the other first wins. Death Note is known for twist after brilliant twist, and has kept me hooked all the way.
Appropriate For: Ages 13 and up, and that’s a little on the young side.
You’ll Like This If You Like: Lost, Criminal Minds, CSI, Dexter, Agatha Christie novels
Dub or Sub?: Dub. The dub is completely unedited and the voice cast of the dub can match, if not surpass, their originals.
2. Yu Yu Hakusho (here)

Plot: Yusuke Urameshi (in the green in above image) is a short-tempered, trouble making high-school student. He’s a hot blooded delinquent with an attitude problem, and almost universally hated by almost everyone around him. He’s got a loving mother, although she’s alcoholic, and a girlfriend. Another thing? In the first episode, he gets hit by a car after saving a kid’s life by pushing him out of the way of it.
He also kinda…. erm, how should I put this? Hmmm…. um…. he kinda dies. Yeah. He kinda dies. In the first episode.
Officials in the Spirit World that he goes to, however, say that he wasn’t meant to save the kid and thus die. So, they barter with him, saying that he can come back to life if he runs some errands. Errands which just happen to include finding and captueing the deadliest demons in the world, who’ve decided to have a kind of pow-wow on Earth.
Thus begins Yu Yu Hakusho, my favorite anime of all time.

YYH’s charm lies in the strength of it’s characters. You see those ink drawings up there? You’ll learn to laugh when they do, cry when they get hurt, cheer when they beat the bad guys. It sound weird, but give Yusuke and pals a try and see what I mean.


Appropriate for: Ages 10 and up

You’ll Like This If You Like: The Blind Side, The Outsiders, Ghost Whisperer, The Sixth Sense, my stuff
Dub or Sub: Dub. You’re lucky it’s good, because I can’t find subs. The US cast can stand toe-to-toe with the originals, and little, if anything, is edited.
3. One Piece (here*)

Plot: Set during the age where pirates ruled the seas, fearless teen Monkey D. Luffy has one dream: find the legendary treasure alluded to by the greatest Pirate of all time, Gold Roger. On his execution stand, his dying words challenged pirates from across the globe to search for all of Gold’s wealth, which he left in One Piece, both literally (it’s all together) and figuratively (it’s the name of the treasure). If Luffy and his motley crew can find this treasure, Luffy will become the king of the pirates and acheive his dreams along the way.

Much like YYH, One Piece’s strength lies in it’s creative characters. A bounty hunter, a theif, a crazy cyborg, and a zombie musician lie in it’s midst, and you care about them through and through.

Appropriate For: Ages 12 and up

You’ll Like This If You Like: Pirates of the Carribean, Maximum Ride, Runaways

Dub Or Sub: Sub, unless you’re watching the Funimation dub. You know the cigar to lolipop example I gave? That’s from the 4Kids dub of One Piece, and is only the beginning of the stupid changes they made, including cutting out 15-odd episodes completely. Funimation has a much better dub, but I use the subs.


4. Outlaw Star (here*)

Plot: It’s a space western! Whee!

OK, there’s a bit more to it than that. But the space western part is totally true. Meet twenty-something Gene Starwind (red-haired in the middle) and his scrappy kid associate Jim Hawking run a small buisiness on the bottom of the planet Sentinel Three. One day, a woman approaches them offering a fair sum if Gene served as her bodyguard while she goes to get a package. Jim tags along as well. It turns out that the “package” is a human-looking robot named Malfina, and it also turns out that the pleasant voiced woman is actually a nefarious outlaw named Hilda. It also turns out that she’s hated by both the world government and her former clan of magic-toting space pirates, who all want Malfina as badly as she does. And that’s just the first three episodes, ladies and gents!

Appropriate For: Ages 12 and up, although Malfina is unclothed for the first half of her first episode. She’s constantly in the fetal position, though, so you can’t see anything but her shoulder, her leg, and her head. She gets some clothes within the episode, though.

You’ll Like This If You Like: Terminator, Firefly (Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly, even cites this as an inspiration.)

Dub or Sub: Sub. The dub isn’t bad, per se, but you always feel like there’s something missing that you can’t put your finger on. Plus, all the voices are really annoying. They all sound like they need Nasonex.

That concludes our look at anime. I hope you enjoyed the post, and that at least one of my suggestions piques your interest enough to get you to check some anime out! Come back next week for another ScratchPad!


* Links with a * next to them have both dub and sub versions available for you. Just click the tabs at the top.

** This post took me a day and a half to do. Whew. I mean, I love anine, but whew.

  1. deathnote says:

    Well I watched deathnote.I like it a lot.Now I am watching one piece,naruto shipp and bleach.

  2. wilson says:

    You know exactly what you’re talking about. You have good insight on the matter.

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