Hey, Answerman!by Brian Hanson,
Hoo boy, it's been a day. You know you got a raw deal when your "day off" involves a visit to the doctor, a trip to a friend's art show, a trip to visit ANOTHER friend with a fractured leg, rehearsals, and a mandatory trip to the mall to be a part of the New Moon midnight movie craziness. (And no, I'm not doing that last thing of my own volition. I have reasons for doing this. Emphasis on the plural.)
Oh, yeah, and I had to make time to write this column somewhere in there, too. Fun! Let's get started.
It seems like an awful lot of manga authors use pseudonyms. Is there some reason for this?
I wouldn't say there's any specific reason, on the whole. Generally speaking, pen names are a way for artists to stand out of the pack a little bit more. I mean, honestly, Tite Kubo is a much more unusual, and therefore memorable, name than Noriaki Kubo.
I'm sure there are a few examples of when there are certain elements of what they're creating that would be considered "unsavory" that they would prefer to distance themselves from (like, I don't know, Inoue Kikuko doing a voice for Ogenki Clinic). Not to mention artists that prefer to maintain their anonymity, like CLAMP.
By and large, though, there's a long-standing literary tradition of pen names and pseudonyms. It's just a simple way to be noticed a little bit easier with a flashier name. Nothing too special about it.
In a lot of anime shows there are references to Germany. Magic spells are often chanted in German (or something that resembles German), European settings are often located in Germany and foreigners in Japanese setting more often then not have a German name.
Considering the relation between Germany and Japan in World War 2 this looks like a delicate situation. Especially considering that, even in this day, there is still a lot of resentment worldwide toward Japan for not acknowledging the horrors they committed. Of course most anime is targeted towards an age group that has no real connection towards this period, but it still strikes me as odd. So why all the German references in anime? Do the Japanese not see this as a delicate situation, is it simply a matter of convenience or do the Japanese really have some sort of fascination toward German language and culture?
Yeah, I've always found that a little odd and disconcerting. And I'm not really sure why, to be honest.
Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer is one of my favorites, but I'm always scratching my head at the beginning where the entire cast is parading around in Nazi uniforms at a school festival. It's played for laughs, I get it, and the swastikas are replaced by giant crosses, but it's still weird to me.
But, then, at the same time, it's the sort of iconography that's instantly recognizable the world over. And we, as a culture, certainly don't help much in that regard. We're kind of Nazi obsessed. If anything, I'd say it's as much a fascination as we Americans have. Except that the politics involved in our portrayals of Germany and German culture don't seem to cross the language barrier, I guess.
Japanese anime and manga artists like putting German words into things and German references into their work because... they probably just think that they're cool. The entire subject of World War II is a touchy subject there, and it's rarely discussed in their public discourse, much less alluded to in their entertainment. I wouldn't say that all the love for Germany is some latent treatise for Japan's once-great imperial warmongering, but rather that the artifacts of that past remained through the tumult of World War II, especially as a society they became more open-minded, more modernized, and more "Westernized."
Hi Answerman, I was wondering why Shonen series never, or at least extremely rarely, kill off one of the good guys. I don't mean some random pedestrian or villager or whatnot, but an actual good guy who we've known for more than 1 episode. My main concern is that the stories become extremely predictable. Since Shonen shows are so action heavy, we all know that the heroes are going to have to fight the villain and whatever, but there never seem like there are any actual stakes involved because none of the characters ever feel threatened. It seems like "tragedy" and "Shonen" don't want to mix very well.
Well, I agree with you on one part: Shonen shows definitely are predictable.
But, I'd argue that that's part of their charm and appeal. Shonen shows are packed to the gills with likable, upbeat characters. We don't want them to die; we want them to fight the bad guys, sweat it out for a round or two, maybe spend a few episodes in training to learn the Giga Hyper-Punch or whatever, and then clobber the bad guys in a fountain of blood and blood-like white spirit energy.
"Tragedy" isn't really the proper dramatic territory for Shonen shows to delve into. Mainly because they're mostly aimed at children and pre-teens, which means that the death of a major character that isn't a villain isn't probably going to the treated with the sort of nuance and grace that such an event should honestly provide. Hence why every character in Dragonball has been killed approximately three times each, and they've all been brought back to life magically each time.
That's not to say that I think that it's taboo for long-running Shonen series to dare kill off a major character. I'd love it if they honestly tried something that bold, and treated the issue delicately and respectfully. In fact, I think Naruto did it quite well. It's just that Shonen is a genre like any other, and it has its very specific tropes and mores that the fans want and expect, and having a major member of the cast killed for good usually isn't one of them.
I'm sorry, I don't, uh-
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Zounds! It's Hey, Answerfans! This was the question I shot out of the highly-pressurized cannon that is the internet last week:
Getting us started for the week, Deadwing certainly has a bevy of things to say on this subject:
The answer to the question of whether anime is superior to Western animation is necessarily a subjective one. It's all a matter of personal taste. Of course, as a lifelong fan of animation, I have my own feelings on the subject, though I'll try to offer objective reasons behind my opinions. Personally, I can't really decide whether Japan or North America has the better animation overall. Both anime and Western cartoons have their own strengths and weaknesses, and both sides put out their fair share of good, bad, and plain old average material.
As you pointed out, while Chris Beveridge's article made good points, it would've been better off if it merely compared TV series. In the case of TV animation, I believe anime wins hands down. Its biggest advantage is of course variety. Practically every genre imaginable is represented in anime: sci-fi, drama, romance, action, horror, you name it. The target demographics vary widely as well, with shows ranging from kids stuff to serious adult-oriented fare. Western animation, however, is sorely lacking in variety of both genres and demographics. For a long time, animation was regarded in the West as a children's medium. Hanna-Barbera, who dominated American animation during much of the latter half of the 20th century, is an excellent example. Cartoons were just fodder for Saturday mornings (and later on networks like Nickelodeon) and were mostly comedic in nature, though there was a fair amount of action cartoons, especially in the 80s which had shows like Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Thundercats that remain popular to this day with people who grew up watching them.
While there have been cartoons over the last couple of decades — action shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Avatar, and The Clone Wars, and gross-out (and sometimes risqué) comedies like Ren & Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life being notable examples — that are decidedly more serious and/or “mature” (i.e., not strictly kiddie fare) than those in the 60s, 70s, & 80s and often attract a sizeable periphery demographic of older viewers like myself if not outright multiple demographic appeal or least Parental Bonus material, they're still directed primarily towards children or general audiences and consist of comedies or sci-fi/superhero-oriented action.
Western animation has started to break out of the so-called “Animation Age Ghetto,” but the results haven't exactly increased genre variety. TV animation targeted towards older audiences is, like most shows targeted towards younger or more general demographics, almost entirely comedic in nature: The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, South Park, Beavis & Butt-head, and the programming on Adult Swim are the most notable examples. When was the last time you saw an adult-oriented sci-fi, action, or drama cartoon in the West? They're exceedingly rare. The only examples I can think of are Spawn, Aeon Flux, The Head, and The Maxx, none of which attained any real success.
The quality of the writing and plots is another point of comparison. There are a lot of anime that are poorly-written schlock (though even some of those can be entertaining), but there are just as many that have deep plots, outstanding character development, and compelling themes. Western animation, being predominantly comedic in nature, is quite different. Most shows directed towards children, particularly those that came out from the 50s on up to the 90s, were quite often formulaic, simplistic, and derivative, with cookie-cutter plots. Hanna-Barbera, the largest producer of TV cartoons during this period, is especially guilty of this. Things started gradually turning around over the last couple of decades, however. Comedies have become increasingly wittier, with plenty of pop-culture references, in-jokes, and sometimes even brilliant social and political satire, much like Golden Age Warner Bros. shorts, though with a decidedly more contemporary flavor.
We can see this in shows ranging from Animaniacs to South Park. A lot of action cartoons are also decidedly more serious in tone than those in days past, and sometimes even have overarching plots instead of having an episodic structure where every episode is self-contained. Batman: The Animated Series and Avatar are excellent examples. Of course, due to the Animation Age Ghetto, darker & edgier themes, more extreme violence, mind screws, and high-octane nightmare fuel aren't going to find their way into mainstream action cartoons to any substantial degree anytime soon. Historically speaking, adult-oriented action 'toons don't succeed very well.
Perhaps the biggest complaint Western audiences have against anime is the use of limited animation. It is true that practically all anime series utilize limited animation techniques, and there are some shows that don't look all that great. Long runners based off of shounen manga can sometimes fall prey to sub-par production values. Considering that, unlike a manga serial, a TV series has to come up with new episodes every week, on time and on budget, some corners are going to be cut, and quite often filler material of varying and usually questionable quality is added. In fact, there are plenty of TV anime that aren't really pleasant to look at, either because of bad production values, minimal budget, or because it was an intentional aesthetic choice.
However, I'd argue that most Western animation isn't any better. In fact, I'd say that TV anime is on average better animated than Western cartoons are. How many Western TV cartoons have a huge budget and high-quality animation? Just look at the output of Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears, Filmation, & Teletoon, or any of the various action cartoons aired in the 80s (several of which were animated by Japanese studios like Toei), or even anything aired today on Fox Sundays, Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim (some of which is anime-influenced). Very few of them are equal or superior to the best TV anime contemporaneous to them, and most don't come anywhere near the quality of a well-produced TV anime. Long story short, not many Western cartoon series are renowned for their quality animation (Warner Bros. being perhaps the biggest example of decent animation for TV series), whereas higher-quality anime series look outstanding despite the limited animation and the budget and time constraints TV shows have to deal with. Even lower-key shows light on the effects (most drama and romance series) can still manage to have excellent art and animation better than the average Western cartoon series.
Animated films are another story. If we just compared traditional 2D animation (fully 3D CGI animation isn't common in Japan like it's become in America), from a strictly technical standpoint, Western animation is the clear winner in terms of animation quality. Of course, it does so because it has the advantage of comparatively large budgets. After all, most domestic animated films are produced by Disney, who commands vast financial resources. For example, Akira and The Little Mermaid, both released in the late 80s, cost around $11 million and $40 million respectively to make ($20M and $70M in 2009 dollars). This budget gap persists even today. Most anime films released this decade cost in the $15 to $35 million range, while Disney forks out several times that for their films, with budgets nearing or exceeding $100 million (the upcoming The Princess and the Frog has a budget of $105M, while Tarzan, supposedly the most expensive animated film ever, cost $150M in 1999, or $195M adjusted). Even non-Disney films tend to have decent budgets: Warner Bros.' The Iron Giant cost $48M, while Don Bluth's Titan A.E. cost $75M.
This disparity in budgets clearly shows in the quality of animation. Most Western animated films are richly detailed and have very slick, smooth animation. Anime films, on the other hand, still bear some hallmarks of the limited animation utilized by TV series despite having far superior quality than any small-screen anime. Even the best of them, such as Studio Ghibli's works, don't have quite the same smoothness in the animation (usually that of the characters) as a Western film despite their otherwise extremely high quality. On the other hand, since Disney produces the bulk of traditional animated films in America, the animation and art design tends towards a very uniform style, whereas anime films benefit from coming from a wide variety of studios and creators and thus have a much wider variety of animation and art styles.
Western animated films fare a bit better than their small-screen counterparts do when it comes to variety of genres. In addition to comedy, one can find fantasy, sci-fi, historical, and dramatic elements. However they still fall prey to the Animation Age Ghetto, with the films rarely getting ratings more severe than PG. The films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios are exclusively family-friendly fare and are commonly musicals (though this has been largely abandoned along with traditional 2D animation over the last few years; The Princess & The Frog is both the first 2D animated film and first musical they've released for theatres in a while). While Disney and other studios have made a good number of enjoyable films with quality animation, the lack of titles with more mature content hasn't gone unnoticed amongst animation fans. With the notable exception of critically acclaimed box office success of the live action/cartoon hybrid “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” the few animated films targeted towards older audiences that do exist tend to fail miserably in theatres. The cult classic Heavy Metal, perhaps the only theatrically released feature of note produced in North America to get the R rating, is a good example.
Finally, there's the issue of 3D CGI animation, which has rapidly become the predominant form of animation for theatrical films in North America. While I far prefer traditional animation and consider 3D CGI to be more supplementary, there are occasions where I enjoy it. Pixar in particular has produced some of the best domestically animated films I have ever seen, not only in terms of sheer artistry, but also in their amazing writing. While Pixar's films are intended for general audiences, even the most jaded of adults can find themselves moved by a film like WALL-E. The recent Star Wars: The Clone Wars series is another 3D cartoon I enjoy, and is surprisingly mature for something that airs on Cartoon Network (hence the TV-PG rating). Japan, however, largely eschews 3D CGI in favor of traditional animation, utilizing computer graphics for effects, vehicles, and some backgrounds rather than characters. Not that I'm complaining or anything. While Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was an amazing film, the cel-shaded motion capture approach of the recent Appleseed movies felt too experimental and took some getting used to.
So, in the end, does Western animation or anime come out on top? If we included all animation regardless of whether it's on TV, in theatres, or elsewhere then I honestly can't say which is overall better. Anime is incredibly diverse and, due to the sheer amount of it, offers plenty of though-provoking, amusing, heartwarming, heartbreaking, emotionally and visually visceral, and just plain old entertaining titles, among those being classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ranma ½, Evangelion, and the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Western animation, while less diverse, offers plenty of brilliant comic fare ranging from classic Warner Bros. shorts to modern hits like The Simpsons and Family Guy as well as great action shows that can entertain people of all ages, not to mention the brilliant work of the people at Pixar.
Good animation is good animation, regardless of which country it comes from. It's a shame that some people have to pick one over the other and sometimes bash the one they don't like. Some anime fans get all elitist with their "I can appreciate foreign animation so I'm better than you" attitudes while looking down on Western animation as "kiddie Disney crap." Likewise, some people that dislike anime go calling anime fans "weaboos" and bashing anime despite having never seen anything besides a few clips the DBZ dub (an attitude I've run into in discussions of Halo Legends over at the halo.bungie.org forums). Given phenomena like the “console wars” in video gaming, it's no surprise that a lot of fanboyish people act like that, and it's quite sad. That's fan dumb for you. It's their loss, though.
And yes, TV Tropes has ruined my vocabulary. ^_^;
Dan plays the "age limit" card:
If we're comparing the whole of anime to the whole of western animation, then I have to give anime a slight edge for two reasons. The first is due to the self-imposed age limit we westerners have put on the animation audience. Save for a few comedies, cartoons are thought of as strictly for children. Furthermore, these children must be protected from all undue influence. With this one stroke, a wide range of potential shows are eliminated. We will not see a western equivalent of Berserk or Noir because they're too violent. We will not see the slow and contemplative like Haibane Renmei or Mushi-shi. We certainly won't see a relationship actually progress, let alone have a cartoon focusing on romance. People who would otherwise enjoy such shows will have nothing to do with them simply out of prejudice against cartoons. This limitation is arbitrary and silly, but it also seems deeply entrenched. CGI may have a chance of overcoming this, but I don't see an easy way of changing people's minds about 2D works.
The second reason applies mainly to television series. Anime is much more likely to create a serialized story than its western counterpart. Episode reset is both a safety net and curse. It allows people to jump in and out of a series without being lost, but it also means that nothing ever progresses. The characters remain unchanged from episode one, and any ultimate goal (if one is even established) remains vaguely distant in hopes of another season. I like strong continuity and a definitive ending, but the market seems to have spoken against me again. Thus I turn my eye to Japan once more. Even that doesn't ensure a true ending, but it's at least a bit more likely.
Of course, the whole idea of a generalized comparison is a bit silly. Great works can and do come from any country, as can absolute garbage. If I were picking two animated TV series at random, it's true I'll likely prefer the anime option. Then again, I could easily end up with Demon Lord Dante vs. Batman: the Animated Series or Super Milk-Chan vs. Venture Brothers. The country of origin guarantees nothing. People limiting themselves in such an arbitrary way just means they've missed something fantastic.
Justin embeds himself firmly in the "cartoons are for kids" camp:
The simple answer is YES. In a general sense, Japanese anime is superior in almost every sense of the word to western animation. However, this is not for some magical reason like the Japanese have it "in their DNA" and we as westerners don't or anything like that. It's all in what its used for. Namely, in the West, animation is almost exclusively used as children's entertainment. In contrast, Japanese anime is produced for all kinds of audiences (think shonen, shojo, seinen, etc etc) and covers all genres. It is also given much more attention and money in Japan which generally will yield better results when applied to anything. But the bottom line is that since our animation is produced for children, it's going to have more basic and unrefined visual and audio qualities (i.e. Ed, Edd and Eddy, Dexter's Lab, etc) and have equally basic plot lines and characters. Now, there do exist some examples of rather well executed Western animation. Disney movies are great examples of superbly animated, well produced animated films with great stories and interesting characters. On television I think that Avatar: The Last Air Bender is probably the best example of a well thought and deep story. However, the western stigma of cartoons being for kids still limits both these examples on how far they can go (just as they limit anime coming into the states that's going to air on TV. One Piece anyone?).
Daniel has a "Anime > Cartoons" lapel pin:
Yes, if you take each as a whole anime comes out on top. To me, art isn't a big factor; they're all rough caricatures of humans, what does it matter if they're big eyed and spiky haired or yellow with terrible overbites? What I care about is the content, and Japan just seems to have a wider-spread acceptance of animation as a form for presenting a narrative. You can have college-age dramas, fantasy action, historical romance, high school comedy... A wider range of stories attracts a wider range of viewers, and thus studios are willing to contribute more money, which in turn makes more and better animation.
No, that doesn't mean everything Japan makes is mature, or creative, or even good, but they do recognize animation as more than a way to entertain children, as is often the case in America. Here animation is episodic, disposable, and merchandise-able. Even the "mature" shows found on Adult Swim (mature often meaning "with violence, sarcasm, and/or pop culture references") still follow an episodic, throw-away method. This could be attributed to the comedic format American shows use almost exclusively; make them laugh and move on. That doesn't mean it can't be good, but suppose I don't want a new situation every week or violence and pop culture references? Well, it seems increasingly that my American-originated options are limited. In the past I had some college-age comedy-dramas with Undergrads and Downtown, action-comedy from Mega XLR, the non-violent but wonderfully referential Home Movies, and the downright cinematic Samurai Jack. Avatar gave me hope for more quality shows that had regular character growth and story advancement, but I haven't heard of anything upcoming to be excited about. I and many others want more from American animation, would love to get more. But until we actually get offered more we'll keep spending our time and occasionally our money in the company of the Japanese.
Joe stands proudly in the crowd and says "me, too!"
Do I think anime is superior to western animation?
I would say that overall yes for what I have seen over the years is that in most cases there seems to be a lot more attention to art and depth of story in the verious anime shows I have watched. The main reason for this involves the Japanese movie and television industries not having the same kind of budgets that the simular industry in the USA have to work with.
Stories that would be made here into Hollywood movies or Television shows with big stars and large special effects budgets instead tended to get animated in Japan due to it costing less to do them through the animation process as well as paying voice actors costs less than big name on screen talent. In Japan a script like Die Hard could have been animated for around a quarter the cost without having to set aside millions to pay a star like Bruce Willis.
What this means is that much more quality stories with more detailed animation shows up in the anime than most western animation . There is a reason why lately Hollywood has been looking at anime stories to make into Hollywood live action films , the stories are of a quality that if Japanese movie and TV studios had the funding they would have been made live action instead of animated.
This is not to say that western animation studios have not produced great work over the years especially the earlier Disney movies. It just seems that in anime there is a lot more attention to details such as lighting and shadows in the animated scene recreating what would appear in a movie while most western animation designed for "Saturday Mornings" tend to be more simple with solid color shapes void of shadows. I do collect Anime cels and can attest to the beauty and detail that can be found in them.
Yotaru gets all punny about this:
Despite what Chris Sodapop says about anime being superior, to make a proper case for Japanese animation over American animation, you have to present the best that each side has to offer vs the worst that they have to offer.
On the Japanese side we have titles like Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell TV, The Works of Miyazaki, etc ( and that barely scratching the surface) Chris Fresca doesn't give the other side of the argument, which makes his article feel like the work of a cheerleader, getting the converted to give a hip-hip-hooray!
Anyone remember Batman: The animated series? Come on! The Simpsons made millions of people laugh for 5 seasons at the very least. South Park is also probably one of the funniest cartoons out there, funnier than some live action sitcoms.
Staying on the comedy tip, Chris Pepsi mentions Adult swim. The best of Adult Swim's American comedy is Venture Bros, which not only has a large narrative and characters with fleshed out backstories, but it's also tremendously funny.
Then we have Disney/Pixar, which are several examples of great animation along with great storytelling. Decades of classic tales, whether they be based on old stories or are new ideas made from scratch.
I think why anime "wins" for Chris Fruitpunch is because so much of it is adapted from manga, which does a good amount of the job for the anime. Anime also "wins" in terms of maturity because America is STILL cranky about sexual content. America also holds onto the stigma of cartoons being only for kids, and when they are presented with mature animation, the controversy begins.
So which is really superior? Screw you all! I'm not playing this game! I like GOOD ANIMATION. I will take no side in this stupid war. It's about as boring an argument as republicans vs. conservatives. I just wanted to briefly make light of Chris Beveridge (and his last name) for his butt smooching of Anime. I sing the praises of anime as well, but I don't believe that anime has only stepped its game up within the past few years. I believe that the piles of crap animation are about the same height in both the east and the west. I'm gonna go watch some Outlaw Star now.
Way to be indecisive, Aaron:
I can honestly say that I do not know.
I mean, each has its bright spots. Take Spirited Away or WALL-e for example. Both are amazing productions, and I'm glad to have seen them. I would be genuinely stunned to find someone who doesn't bat an eye while watching them. But they are two different things. You could go up to any SA or WALL-e fan and they'd tell you the same. Though they are similar in some respects, they are vastly different in style and story. Spirited Away tells the strange-but-epic tale of the bathhouse of the gods, while WALL-e shows the fantastic journey of one little robot. Both are unique in their ways. WALL-e certainly doesn't scrub any toilets, and Chihiro hasn't visited outer space. I love them both, but in different ways. Same goes for most other animation. I just can't pick between them.
Of course, both countries of put out their share of crap as well. (For thee the bell tolls, Eiken and American Dad)
Patrick's history lesson is henceforth:
To properly compare Japanese animation with Western animation means having to compare two different approaches to animation. Most of the points in favour of Japanese animation have to do not with the actual animation but the story. During the 60s, 70s and going into the 80s, the animation being produced by the West, particularly for television, was generally superior in quality of actual animation. Western animation would produce more frames per second resulting in smoother animation, whereas Japanese animation had a more stilted "moving comic book" look like the first Spiderman animated series. With the use of computers in assisting and creating animation, the animation between the East and the West is more homogeneous.
But the West never had the manga industry that Japan had to draw upon. Instead we were living with the guidelines of the Comic Book Code which shaped the types of stories that animators had to work with. This code eventually led to the mindset that comics, and thus cartoons, were meant for kids. So Western animators who used comics didn't have the same stories to draw from, and what they did have were mostly super hero stories. At best we get stories with Batman, Superman and Spiderman which have gone through decades of censorship in the shaping of those stories.
Western animation, from it's early days, has also used fairy tales and folk tales as a source of stories. Japanese animation has also used it's own folk tales in animation as well, but they haven't seem to rely upon them as heavily as the West does. The West also has a tradition of comedy and sitcom animation, most noticeable in cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, which has seemed to dominate the industry. Dramatic animation does get produced, but in very small quantities. Japan's animation industry has also drawn from light novels, whereas the West has been more inclined to use children's books.
Overall, the whole Western industry has been shaped to cater to children whereas the Japanese industry has been allowed to cater to all markets. There are even many stories created by Japan which no animator would even consider. For instance, aside from a few movies like Fritz the Cat or the odd TV show like Stripperella, the West has nothing approaching hentai.
Unfortunately, flash animation has been the dominant product of the West lately and way too much of it is just cheap and unwatchable. Still, the West--despite being nowhere as prolific as Japan--has produced and does produce some very high quality animation. It's just that we don't have the same material to draw from.
Vashfanatic, you've been reading my stomach:
So, is anime better than American animation? I think you were right that comparisons between the two are usually comparing apples to oranges - that is, the best of anime to the worst of American animation. (Though to be fair, people who don't like anime generally compare its worst to America's best, but that's another story...) Stylistically, they're hard to compare as well, at least for television series. Anime trades off motion for detail, while American TV shows trade off detail for motion. Movies do better in avoiding this dilemma, but it makes a simple comparison between the two styles not so simple. A lot of it comes down to preferences, and a comparison of, as you say, apples to oranges.
But what I'd add to your fruitful metaphor is that while both anime and American animation have apples and oranges, anime also has bananas and pineapples and guavas and pears and peaches. Leaving aside the world of artsy short films, the one place anime does have a definitive advantage over American animation is in its diversity.
I mean, to what am I supposed to compare a heavily-symbolic mind-screw series like RahXephon? There is no equivalent in American animation. Or what about an adult romance like Paradise Kiss, or a taut thriller like Monster? We just don't do that in animation here in the States. While it's true that daytime television in Japan is dominated by the same demographic as its American counterpart (i.e. kid-friendly), at least after dark anime companies are willing to step outside that boundary. In contrast, the animation ghetto is still firmly in place in America; cartoons are either for kids or comedies for adults. Animation studios in America don't try to reach any other audiences. Nor do we try risky ideas that might not work. Nobody in America would think to air a show that utterly scrambled its storyline like Baccano!, much less an experimental masterpiece like Kaiba.
Now, I'm not saying every anime series is amazingly creative or anything; far from it. Just as Fox has repeated the formula of The Simpsons to the breaking point, so too has anime delivered round after round of formulaic Dragonball-inspired shounen action shows and moe-riffic melodramas. But even in a rather bleak season like we've just entered, you get a show that tackles homosexuality (Sasameki Koto) and a serious, violent action series (Darker than Black 2) which would never see the light of day in America. We're sadly missing this level of diversity.
Yet, I wonder if we fans don't play straight into the ghetto we so loathe. I'm currently barreling through Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and while there is no American animated equivalent, should I be forced to only compare it to animated series? Maybe it would be better to compare it to the Star Trek franchise, or to Bablyon 5. So far, it could easily hold its own with both of them for depth of character and storytelling. Maybe we need to stop being so narrow-minded about what anime can be compared to. Maybe we should compare it to television in general, where you get the same mix of creative risk-taking and derivative re-hashing that you find in anime. Compare Evangelion to Lost, not Spongebob. Compare Nana to…I dunno, maybe Grey's Anatomy, not to a show like Family Guy. You'll get more bananas to bananas that way.
Stephen remembers the 80's:
I think the word that describes the typical difference is "consequence". I'm a child of the eighties, so much of what I remember of animation is that generation of TV Toy Commercials where the bad guys and good guys fought and the bad guys ran away and nobody was hurt.,p>Then Optimus Prime got killed. That seemed very interesting to me, that rather than everything returning to some kind of status quo, that things would change in some ways. Just like in the movies, more or less. Exo-Squad is another example. Actual warfare, PG as it was.
But the shows I remember best were shows were things could change, where you could have actual story arcs that went somewhere. Later, as I got older, I would find myself getting involved as Dragon Ball Z played on the screens around the cafeteria where I worked for a while. I'd already been introduced to Anime somewhat before then, but in the days of VHS and early DVDs, it was harder to find stuff I could actually watch in sequence. When I learned of Fansubs, I got all of it I could manage, and I guess I hit at around the right time to watch Trigun, Rah Xephon, and Cowboy Bebop.
Not all of my recent favorites have been Anime. Avatar: The Last Airbender is one I followed. I'm working my way through Danny Phantom. So what does it all have in common, the good stuff from both cultures?
I guess, the best way to put it is that somebody cared about telling a story, about playing the characters right, about putting together a show that has more entertainment value to it than just what the surface gloss and your preferences would lead you to believe. The Japanese, I think, expect a certain basic level of quality, plot, and character work that sometimes American animation as an industry doesn't. Americans aren't supposed to take animation seriously as a medium to tell stories past the early teens. Adult storytelling in American animation is all too often a novelty, where in Japan, it's an expectation for at least part of the audience, since there's a long developed market for it.
The real question, I think, is where we are in twenty years, as the generation that grew up consuming more anime and manga grows up. I think at some point, you're going to have a blockbuster animated feature that caters to the audience beyond the youth market, and then we might start to see parity develop.
Now to finally kill this entire debate ONCE AND FOR ALL, Ian mentions The Venture Bros. and therefore succeeds in winning the entire argument in perpetuity forever:
Batman: The Animated Series, though drawn by Asian studios was a kid's show with episodes that delved deeply into character's psychosis and real problems that lead to great tragedy. I had to feel for Harvey Dent, or Matt Hagen.
Are there more, "deep" anime shows? Sure but there have been some very good Western cartoons both from a comedic and satirical sense too. Look at something like The Venture Bros. (I guess there really isn't any other cartoons quite like that one so just look at that one) I have to think that a show like that could only be made in the West.
Okay, good! Now, before I go on and give you guys the next Answerfans question, I just wanted to comment briefly on the responses this week.
Y'know, I agree that anime TV series are much better than western cartoon TV series. That's an easy argument to win. But TV series DO NOT represent the entirety of western animation. In fact, they represent only a small, tiny fraction of the regular output of western animation. Granted, they represent the majority of what people actually watch, but that's not the same thing.
So do me a favor, if you could. Pick up one of the Animation Show DVDs. Or watch some NFB short films on YouTube. Or watch a few clips from The Thief and the Cobbler. Or something. Anyway, comment over. Next week's question!
Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.
For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.
Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.
That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.
Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!
Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.
We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.
Things To Do:
* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.
Things Not To Do:
* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.
Now, I'm off to endure the stench of desperation and sadness that will be the inevitable outcome of the New Moon midnight screening! G'night!
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