In a January 3rd piece posted over at The Atlantic, Monica Kim ponders if Shinichiro Watanabe's latest series Space Dandy can help anime garner some “well-deserved critical consideration.”
It's a rather lengthy, in-depth, and well-researched article on the topic of anime series and they're place in popular Japanese culture. Yet Kim hits on the fact that plenty of anime isn't taken as seriously in the west as perhaps it should:
Critical focus, however, has stayed largely on feature films, while anime - referring specifically to Japanese animated television series - has not earned the same kind of respect. An animator like Daisuke Nishio, for example, who directed the hit Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z series, is not considered an artist like Miyazaki, whose drawings have been displayed in museums in Paris.
There are plenty of reasons for this but Kim remarks that the commercial success of anime (reportedly worth $2 Billion a year) and the relentless demands of the industry for safe, reliable animation with dime-a-dozen plots and characters, are what prevent it from being taken as seriously as other forms of entertainment.
Of course, plenty of western animation isn't critically acclaimed either and there are hundreds of shows being produced around the world that can barely be considered 'creative' yet alone have any artistic value. Yet western critics seem eager to sing the praises of western animated shows such as Adventure Time while simultaneously ignoring the output from across the Pacific (sans Miyazaki of course.)
That's hard to comprehend, especially since shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion (just to name a popular one) have been presenting viewers with a more complex psychological experience than the aforementioned Adventure Time for well over 20 years. Outside of the limited budgets, anime shows often exhibit far more genres than the western animated shows that seem bent on performing a comedy routine at all costs. Doesn't critical acclaim encompass more than one aspect of a show's composition?
Kim boils part of this ignorance down to the directorial 'signature' of a series, but that is to over-simplify things. There are too many cultural aspects in the mix, and there is also the blatantly obvious point that too many western critics simply don't watch enough, or indeed, any, anime shows to form an honest opinion on artistic merits. That is more likely to be the real culprit to this problem, and sadly one that doesn't look like being solved any time soon.