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……
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
NO SPOILERS IN COMMENTS
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.