Some who know me but aren’t particularly aware of my otaku side might be wondering what I see in this form of television entertainment that is widely recognized as anime. Those same people might have some questions as to what makes anime different from other animated works more commonly referred to as cartoons. I’ll attempt to answer these questions in an organized manner, but don’t be surprised if I get a little scattered.
To start, what makes animated works so appealing to someone like me? Compared to other types of storytelling media, animation can seem childish at first. Books are certainly more of an exercise for the imagination. Audio books or podcasts can be enjoyed with less direct involvement, creating great opportunities for learning while on the go. Live action TV and moves showcase the talent of an actor/actress to immerse the viewer in the show. Why would anyone who isn’t a child want to watch a cartoon?
To put it in the most straightforward way I can, animation allows a story to be presented in ways that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. In surrendering our imaginative choices to the vision of the animator, we allow them to express the characters, scenery, and story in a way that evokes a response from the viewer in a more artistic way. Whether they decide to draw flames erupting from a character’s mouth to show extreme displeasure or subtly adjust the hue of a character’s eyes to show a shift in emotion, animation allows a writer to use art and all its versatility to tell a story. This can apply to computer generated animation or almost completely hand-drawn works like Hayao Miyazaki’s films.
While the above is a very brief glimpse into my perception of the topic, the takeaway should be that, when considered as a legitimate form of art, animation can be analyzed in a more intellectual manner that greatly appeals to a more mature mind. In considering this point, Anime, in my opinion, provides more diverse and expressive experience than most other animated works.
We can look at a broad definition of anime to get a frame of reference in this incredibly varied topic. In Japan, the word ‘anime’ is a shortened form of the word ‘animation’, which refers to any form of animated work. In western countries, like my native USA, anime most commonly refers to animation that either comes from Japan or is heavily influenced by Japanese style animation. While there is some debate over the origin and legitimacy of the word, the international interpretation of anime more closely reflects the western perception of it, if only because of its contrasts with western animation. There are many discrete factors that differentiate anime from western cartoons, but rather than go into each one, most of us will recognize most of them just by looking at a show.
Large eyes, unique hair, and exaggerated expressions – These traits aren’t characteristic of all anime, but are some of its more easily identified superficial features. Others have more realistic forms but still carry a distinctly Japanese style that set them apart artistically from other shows. One of the more prevalent characteristics is the reliance on 2-D animation styles with limited differences between frames. Action scenes aside, this necessitates a good number of more quiet moments, where viewers are given a chance to better understand the characters or situation. While the animation techniques involved are often inspired by Western works, Japanese creators inevitably reflect their culture and values in their work to create a distinct form of entertainment, regardless of how many different styles and genres of anime have come about.
While many anime are aimed toward children, some of the best ones also explore themes that are more appreciated by adolescents and older. Heavy concepts like trauma, grief, and catharsis find their way into anime as often as more lighthearted aspects like friendship, redemption, and overcoming the odds. There are comparably fewer western series that can be appreciated by a mature audience without involving more decidedly mature themes and situations. This isn’t to say that western animation is inferior in any way or can’t be enjoyed with the same level of enthusiasm. Only that anime, especially in the last few decades, has generated a much wider range of such content that can very often be enjoyed by all ages.
Part of the appeal is the tendency for anime to do more exploration into the characters themselves. There are even some genres that focus almost solely on this, and do very little narrative work through the course of the series. Indeed, most good stories involve characters that we can identify with on some level that achieve something personally through the course of the story. Sure, we all want to see Goku and friends defeat [insert your favorite DBZ arc’s villain], but how memorable is it if none of them grow in the process? On the other side of this, there are many anime that also offer plots that are as complex as the characters the surround, offering a much more rewarding experience when we reach their conclusion.
The best answer to the question of “why?”, in my personal opinion, has to do with the enjoyment that can be gathered from it. Anime, of nearly any genre, is just fun to watch. Whether or not I can analyze it to pieces or just enjoy the spectacle of an entertaining show, anime creates experiences that can seldom be found elsewhere and with so many different genres and themes, there is truly something for everyone.
Because in the end, isn’t fun the most important part of any hobby?