What makes Japanese cartoons “anime”?

What is anime? All animation from Japan? All animation of a certain style? Then what about Japanese animation outside of that style? What about the international productions?  An old debate, that is surprisingly common in more ad-hoc anime viewer groups; youtube comments, gamer forum threads, and personal discussions,  and rarer in the blogosphare, on anime-themed sites, and in other groups self-identifying as the “academic” opinion leaders of otaku culture.

Maybe it’s because the latter doesn’t want to deal with something that is seen as the petty whining of obsessive-compulsive categorizers. Or maybe because after a certain amount of anime watched, the borderline cases will start to appear more and more clearly fitting into one group anyways.

It’s easy to believe that Avatar or Teen Titans are exactly like anime, when all the “other anime” that you have watched, is limited to Death Note, Naruto, and Elfen Lied. Then as your MAL is growing several hundred titles long, you will start to detect hundreds of little differences between them that you might not even consciously notice or at least you couldn’t describe, like the different emphasis on lip-synching, the details of background scenery or in shadow effects, and the exact way faces are drawn. (beyond just “small noses and big eyes” (Because seriously,that’s about the most generic description you could give for pretty much every cartoon ever)).

And then the plot starts, and it’s even more obvious that there are plenty of fundamental differences between how a western and a Japanese writer would think about storytelling. Even when they are actively trying to imitate each other.

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The Genre Ghetto

In TVTropes slang, “ghetto” stands for the attitude that a certain content type should stay limited to the narrowly defined pigeonholes that it’s critics made up. For example, the common western attitude that all animation should be made for kids, is the Animation Age Ghetto, or the common expectation that female-targeted shows are strictly for women only, is the Girl Show Ghetto.

These ghettos can even manifest themselves literally as closed-off areas where these stereotypically “inferior” stories can be rounded up and separated from “proper” entertainment, such as libraries sending all manga down to the children’s library, or separating everything all speculative fiction on a sci-fi/fantasy bookshelf, outside of everything else’s alphabetic order.

That latter one, the sci-fi ghetto, gets some of the most interestingly illogical reactions. While by now there are so many mainstream, popular, and even artistically acknowledged sci-fi stories, that you would expect it’s critics to just give up, that’s where prejudice shows it’s stubbornness: Instead of just admitting that, say, 1984 is an intelligent sci-fi novel, therefore sci-fi can be intelligent, the truly prejudiced can still think like this:

“Oh, sci-fi is that silly Star Trek-thing where spaceships shoot lasers at each other, and men wear pajamas, so if 1984 has none of that, it’s not really sci-fi, it’s Proper Literature”

And that’s not even an exaggeration. Critics, and even authors, have really argued that their works are not really fantasy or sci-fi, if they don’t fit into the crudest stereotypes of these genres. Just how arrogant you have to be, to redefine an entire genre according to your own admittedly limited familiarity with it, while dismissing the established definition made by it’s actual audience?  As anime fans, you might be directly familiar with that kind of attitude. While most of the above preconceptions are limited to the hilariously ignorant and old-fashioned mainstream, in case of anime, even our fellow fandoms and nerds and enthusiasts, who are protesting the same prejudices themselves, might think and speak like this:

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What’s the opposite of “Weeaboo”?

“A normal person”.

At least that’s the impression you could get, from the way these annoying extremists are referenced everywhere. Or rather, I should say “this annoying extremism”. As I already referenced it a month ago, I don’t really think that the word can be truly applied to any individual in the anime fandom, since anyone can easily avoid the few stereotypes that obviously brand anyone as a weeaboo.

  1. Don’t use phrases like, kawaii, or baka gaijin, non-ironically.
  2. Don’t praise Japan, don’t want to go there, don’t learn Japanese. (or if you want to, at least don’t brag about it, and balance it out by saying something negative about Japan).
  3. Don’t get offended at others calling anime “Japanese cartoons”. Don’t insult western animation.
  4. Don’t complain about how horrible every single english anime dub is.

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