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Animation Is Serious, But Anime Is Not?

Television
by Charles Kenny
January 24, 2014 7:30 PM
10 Comments
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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.

Television
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More: Space Dandy

10 Comments

  • Mark | January 28, 2014 4:29 AMReply

    Anime got me into the animation industry, I should say interested in animation as a profession. We could learn a hell of a lot from anime, not so much the animation side of it but the fact that it covers so much ground. From being for young kids to ... well keeping it clean, adults. With everything in between. We still either do kids stuff or family, and lets face it our idea of adult animation is really aimed at late teens. As slick and advanced as our stuff has become, the talent is going to waste on films that just don't seem to have the same staying power as before, our stuff really feels like product, maybe I'm just bored.

  • busterbeam | January 25, 2014 7:21 PMReply

    lol when did /m/ get to this comments section?

    Rheinhard a lot of 70s shows are good in large part BECAUSE of their visuals. not because they're technically well drawn but because they're fun and expressive and doing a good job with a low budget and look more interesting than some super high budget stuff. it's why Lupin III is fun. it's a large part of why Ashita no Joe is fun; it's >technically< drawn and animated even worse than Legend of the Galactic Heroes in that it has a lot of little mistakes but its stylish use of visuals makes it a great-looking show.

    you guys are the anime equivalent of an 'old school gamer' touting the idea that 'OLD VIDEO GAMES HAD TERRIBLE VISUALS BUT THAT DOESN'T MATTER, THEY WERE ALL ABOUT GAMEPLAY' even though plenty of old video games have absolutely mind blowing art direction. it's like (ok, extreme example...) saying "Citizen Kane looked like shit because it was black & white, but it had a good script! that's why it's good!".

  • Rheinhard | January 25, 2014 7:00 PMReply

    While I enjoy many of the series mentioned by Faiz, and am generally known as one of the more well-known pushers of his #1 listed show "Legend of the Galactic Heroes" in fandom (hence my nickname), I would be hard pressed to imagine it being taken seriously by a lot of critics. While it presents some excellent analysis of human political structures and military tactics, its animation quality is pretty lacking in places. While I have always been about story over art (I love many 70s anime even with their primitive look over much of today's slicker looking fare), I think this would weigh heavily on the evaluation of many critics. And considering that LoGH is very like animated Isaac Asimov SF, remember that even as well known as Asimov is, few "serious" literary critics think much of his fiction...

  • John Paul Cassidy | January 25, 2014 5:20 AMReply

    It's American cultural arrogance, pure and simple. Same argument on the comparison between tokusatsu (Japanese SPFX) and Hollywood VFX. The American side of it is that it must be strictly "realistic" (representational art), whereas Japan, considering its non-union system, presents distilled and stylized work (presentational art). Miyazaki's work is of greater quality than TV shows, but that does not make it any less anime than the TV stuff these critics ostracize. Good or bad, anime is Japanese animation in general. Hearing sensational reports like these makes me enraged with this country's aristocratic "values." It's disheartening.

  • Reuben | January 25, 2014 12:57 AMReply

    The worst example of critics ignoring anime was that Forbes article saying Korra "invented a new genre of Animated Drama," ignoring all the anime drama series that inspired it.

  • Faiz | January 24, 2014 10:34 PMReply

    This is why i don't take critics seriously. It's absolutely baffling about how ethnocentric they can be about their local culture that they become so narrow-minded about the merits of the international achievements. Bringing up this topic amidst the release of Space Dandy is unreasonable and ignorant. It's far from the best anime industry's got. That series is shaping up to be a disappointment. Even BONES (The studio behind it) are intending to cut its episode share by a half. I applaud the motivation behind the article but Neon Genesis Evangelion is the only proof of the industry's success. Go check :
    1.Legend of Galactic Heroes
    2.Fate/Zero
    3.Kara no Kyoukai
    4.Phantom : Requiem for The Phantom
    5.Mushishi
    6.The Tatami Galaxy
    7.Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
    8.Steins;Gate
    9.Puella Magi Madoka Magica
    10.Baccano!
    11.Ghost in The Shell
    12.Berserk
    13.Mononoke
    14.Kin no Tabi
    15.Aoi Bungaku

    And many more.

  • Minespatch | January 27, 2014 10:49 PM

    Big O as well. Speed Grapher's also a interesting commentary on romance and sexuality.

  • Branko Burcksen | January 24, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    I have to agree. The problem amounts to the fact there is so much anime released every year, which looks as generic as any show produced in the US, but unless your a news site like Anime News Network, you're not going to put in the effort to scavenge through the mountains of drivel to find the gems. (And trust me, there are plenty of valuable rocks to find every year.)

    Apart from Space Dandy, a more serious anime that has a chance of touching the mainstream in America is Attack on Titan, which should see a English language release this year.

  • ÖH | January 24, 2014 9:32 PMReply

    The problem with Monica Kim's premise, as is repeated in this article, is that it is entirely too vague to be taken seriously. She is essentially asking what it will take for non-Japanese consumers to take anime seriously, which is like saying "what will it take for non-Japanese consumers to take "music" seriously?", or "what will it take for non-Japanese consumers to take "dance" seriously?". Anime is just animation from Japan, not some exotic art form from another dimension. Anime is subject to the same level of human incompetence and unoriginality as any other cartoon. Kim's article is a fluff piece advertisement for Watanabe's new project, and nothing more. Perhaps cynical promotion techniques such this are responsible for the perceived lack of public interest.

  • Feefle | February 12, 2014 3:28 PM

    The only intelligent comment right there. Well said, ÖH.

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