The term anime refers to a distinctive tradition of Japanese animation that is almost immediately recognizable by its superior artistic quality as well as by the somewhat mannered artistic conventions anime artists employ, such as the preference for child-like, large eyes. But it's not just the art that grabs one's attention.
In contrast to the flat, Good vs. Evil plots in U.S. cartoons, many anime stories deal with complex, thought-provoking themes, presenting complex characters that change as the stories progress. There's a ready acceptance of the reality of death. In some anime, even those intended for kids, main characters sometimes die. Although there's as much silliness and trash in anime as in any other popular medium, it's a fair generalization to say that it's a more intelligent genre than American cartoons. For anyone used to Disney's predictable plots and platitudes, one's first encounter with anime produces shock, followed by fascination. It's serious stuff.
Anime also provides a window into another culture. In ways that many anime fans scarcely guess, anime draws strongly from Japanese and wider Asian mythology and symbolism generally, and specifically from the rich Japanese traditions of Shinto, the martial arts, and Zen.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons anime deals so successfully with fantasy themes, as fans of Record of the Lodoss War, illustrated here, will readily attest. But there's more.
Responsible for some of the world's best technology at present, the Japanese seem to be out in front in another way, too: Thinking seriously about the implications of advanced technology.
Some of the most interesting anime explore the implications of technologies that blurs the distinctions between machine and person, male and female, good and evil, leaving the characters groping to find their moorings. In contrast to American explorations of advanced technology (as in Star Wars and the Terminator films), which subsume all the issues under the "absolute good vs. absolute evil" and "happy ending" tropes, anime deeply explores the moral and spiritual ambiguities of life and culture in a world pushed over the edge by rampaging technological progress.
What Is Anime!!
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22 May 2006
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