With the cheerful opening tune still ringing in the back of the mind the white clouds in the blue sky above the green cultivated land are visited by a burdened truck. Within the folds of the green machine’s load sit two girls sharing sweets. The elder sticks half her body out of the window made of furniture and large bags of what must be clothing but could be anything and calls to her father to offer him some. He checks after his daughters as he gladly accepts his eldest’s offering and they both look back to the countryside, made fluffy through the trees and clouds.
From the song that you don’t understand to the white text attempting to be as unobtrusive as possible (if you’re lucky) that explains it to you. And from the cinematography of the movie including the graphic intuition that you’re watching a painting come to life; the elements of Hayao Miyazaki‘s My Neighbour Totoro charm you into huddling into your knees, blinking a few times to oil your eyes, never doing so again so you can catch the subtitles and artwork at the same and make you think: ‘ahh, this is anime’.
You’re right; but what do you mean?
What is anime?
Is it a style?
Is it a genre?
Is it Japanese?
Is it art?
Anime can be thought to be very stylistic. It quite clearly looks nothing like the American cartoons, right? The differences not only include the way characters and settings are drawn but also the content one can find in an anime. Anime is for all people, people of every age; anime is not for kids (one branch of anime specifically; a branch some women would rip from the tree and claw off the bark with their own bare hands – manicure be damned – if they watched enough of it).
Speaking of branches on the sakura tree of anime: well, there are a lot of them. Anime is a fluid, versatile creature that covers every topic under the sun. There are even educational programme elements in the most abstract of shows, delivered in a format that is undisputedly anime plus nothing in the field quite fits into a category. I mean, they even had to invent new categories as the anime ‘genre’ flung up ideas that became so popular that similar shows continue to be made (the examples off the top of my head are the magical girl, mecha and, recently rising in popularity, game categories).
Anime and its new ideas are, in fact, so influential that they’ve thrown up the American-Japanese hybrid RWBY; a popular subject of debate. Now that throws the whole definition out of whack doesn’t it? Especially when you have Knights of Sidonia and similar anime cropping up afterward and looking a little too familiar in art style for it to be disconnected from the aforementioned hybrid. Yet the community’s done a bang-up job of either remaining in a moratorium or tightening the definition of anime to the point where holes in the theory abound. In the end, what makes Knights of Sidonia Japanese and RWBY American? Is it the nationality of who created them? Is it the location in which they’re created? Is it what language they start off in?
Of course not. Because those are all arbitrary details and are things we don’t exactly enjoy about anime. It certainly was never the highlight of my day to scour the internet for a copy of a show that’s made in a different country and a completely different language to my own. That’s not why we watch it.
We watch it because it’s art.
A viewer gets the easy end of the stick. They see the the dynamic motion and familiar art styles and, when these become a bit eccentric, they just assimilate it into the ever-growing whole of the mother – anime. But only so many words can be written on a leaf; so now anime is overflowing and being poured out of the entertainment genre, where students can now be freed to study the thing.
Anime has too much of an effect (emotionally, psychologically, socially; for the people who watch at least) not to be studied and yet, because it is such a versatile thing and buried under stigma (like most things not given attention to in society) it’s difficult for someone with a passion for finding out the inner workings of the phenomenon, outside of Japan, to find enough credibility to get started. However, the recent breaking of barriers opens up new possibilities to people who hadn’t realised they were there – foreign creators.
Looking at it after the fact, Rooster Teeth’s RWBY is not the only intertextual, internationally integrated piece of anime in the world but it has inspired the minds of some to break down the segregational barriers of how fans think of anime and have encouraged even African creators to attempt to bloom into the industry. The kind of people not in it for the money but for the message. For the art.
If you don’t agree with me then at least consider that when it boils right down to it we want to ask if anime is worth it. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be and worthy of a second glance and maybe even dried out eyes. If it really is distinct in its boundaries and limited to nations.
And if not?
If not restricted to nationalities or age groups, men or women, pervert or saint: what makes a newcomer of any age or social background stop and observe the shower of cherry blossom options ever-growing on the anime tree?
What makes anime art?
I interviewed some great creative people to make this post happen.
I’ve made a highlight reel
Check it out if you want their answers.