I must start this article with another confession. I do not care much for anime.
Anime, or the form of animation from Japan, has exploded in popularity in the United States. There are many who worship the very alter that the ink must come from. At least, I get the impression it is a religious practice, considering how devoted some are to the worship of anime. Listening to an anime fan, you would think that it possessed secrets that held the cure for cancer, the meaning of life, a way to make everyone rich, and a recipe for a low fat substitute that does not disappoint in the flavor department.
Well, if this fervor is becoming the marked definition of the modern fandom, count me out. I view this item the way that I view every single movement/nation/aesthetic. There are some that are no doubt masterpieces. But a lot of it is so much filler with an inflated reputation. Do you think that every single film to come out of France and Italy is a masterpiece? Of course not. So why is every single animated film from Japan some sort of hybrid of Prometheus and Prester John-descending from an imaginary, far away land to bring universal truth to the human race?
I am not alone in this mentality. Yet the inverse is just as bad – in which absolutely nothing in the genre is good. And with that, I come to my topic today – finding the anime properties that are still worthy of consideration as great films. Maybe some exposure will help the debate. Or maybe not – likely, I will get heat from both sides. One will claim I am being too “western” (they accused Akira Kurosawa of the same thing) and the other claiming I am a fat nerd who just needs to go back to finding pleasure in the interactions of nubile teenagers and monsters with phallic tentacles. Either way, I enjoy these and hope that others will come to find the same enjoyment. In alphabetical order:
Aeon Flux-What I mean here are the original shorts. Does this count? I would say so – it contains enough of the techniques. Yes, I know it was originally produced for MTV. I still count it among the anime genre simply because it does contain a lot of the trademarks of the genre, and the animation is really good. What the original shorts represented was a deconstruction of heroism – a hero who always died in bizarre ways. Imagine a giant insect facing a hero. Does the hero really stand a chance? No – usually they survive the encounter out of obligation. Not Flux, despite the fact that she possesses more skills than almost all animated characters. They are funny and at the same time wonderful to look at. If only more properties could possess this detached humor.
Akira-An easy choice? Yes, considering this is pretty much the Citizen Kane of the genre. It set the tone for a lot of what was to follow. For one, it was the first of its genre to record voices before beginning animation (we have been doing that for years – not so in Japan. That’s why characters’ mouths never match the dialogue). For another, it created the science fiction setting that most would follow. Today, most anime films either are rooted in fantasy or science fiction – no in-betweens. And finally, Akira addressed the sort of Nieztschian philosophy of the man and the superman. What is Tetsuo if not this superman, bending to no one’s whims, only to be consumed by his own ego as a sort of punishment? OK, that last part is not Nietzsche, but it still bears discussion. In addition, the animation is amongst the most fluid in history, presenting a sort of depth
Afro Samurai-Akira Kurosawa ultimately pointed to John Ford as one of his idols. The makers of this property could point to Sergio Leone as their influence. The titular character is a great combination of the clandestine “man with no name” (to the point that both characters are named after their hair styles) and the ancient traditions of Japan. It is exactly the sort of thing Kurosawa may have done. And again, the animation is quite crisp (to the point I cannot even tell the characters mouths don’t match with dialogue) and the discussion of destiny very prevalent. The sequel was also quite good but felt too much like a retread and did not have enough new ideas. You know, like sequels usually do.
Ghost in the Shell-The love child of Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson. It is about a computer program who wants to enter the physical world and a cyborg cop who wants to stop it. That is the basic premise – I am not sure if I could fully delve into the sort of Marshall MacLuhan style ramblings present. Needless to say, it is a fascinating insight to what will probably be our reality in a few years. Besides – the ending actually is a sort of key to immortality. Hmm – maybe those fans who claim anime does contain a universal truth were onto something.
The films of Miyzaki-Miyazaki is the most popular filmmaker currently in Japan. His films outgross everything that we export to them. Even Titanic, I believe, was defeated by one of his creations. And with good reason – these are some of the best childrens’ films in existence. Now, I am not referring to the usual Disney puff piece. I am referring to the sort of fairy tale children would actually respond to. As far as I am concerned, Pan’s Labyrinth is a better “childrens'” movie than, say, Pocahontas. One is an item that explores the fantasy world all children seem to inhabit. Violence is a very strong part of that world – anyone remember the gore present in the Grimm fairy tales? Miyazaki also realizes this truth. The fairy tales he spins have some frightening images but also some of the same catharsis. Miyazaki truly is the greatest animator in the world. How is it possible to dislike his work?