How Do I Introduce Anime To My Kids?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jason asks:

I'm a new father. While I will be limiting screen time for my child, at some point I will be inclined to let her watch cartoons. A joy for me, as a child, was seeing adapted anime series that were brought to America. Rediscovering shows that made an impact on me (mostly during the 80's) and finding they were imports was wild and helped me discover so much new stuff that I became an anime fan. I'm not one to shove everything I love in the face of my child, so I was wondering the state of children's anime in America. What shows exist here? Is it likely I'll be finding other means of importing for her benefit? What are your, or people you know, recommendations beyond the typical Ghibli/Doraemon combo?

First, congratulations! Second, I am not a parent, so my advice will be based on the usual anime knowledge I bring to the table, not any actual experience in child-rearing. Just to get that out of the way.

Since it sounds like your baby is still very, very young, you have a few years before you'll be able to really introduce any visual content to her and expect anything more than a gurgling noise in response. You could probably show her just about any anime related imagery (though let's keep it G-rated) and she might be dazzled by the pretty colors, and maybe develop a subconscious familiarity with certain characters or art styles. But that'll pretty much be it until she's a toddler.

Japan actually makes quite a number of (mostly short) anime series for the preschool set. Some of these are packaged in Japanese live action kids' shows, much like animated sequences are peppered throughout Sesame Street. A handful of these series might end up on Crunchyroll (where they'd be subtitled, and therefore useless to anyone who can't yet read), but most never get brought over to America at all. North American anime fans tend not to care much about shows made for anyone younger than pre-teens. I'm afraid you're not going to find anime choices that will be able to compete with Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer.

Of course, the Studio Ghibli films and a handful of family friendly films released by G-Kids (Patema Inverted, Welcome to the Space Show) are good choices for kids of all ages. If you're not against showing her "toy commercial anime," Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! are still going strong, and while Bakugan Battle Brawlers ended a few years ago, it's out there. Several Digimon series are on Hulu.

Action shows like Naruto and One Piece are decidedly for older kids, and have some scary fight scenes and deal with things like death occasionally, so it's probably best to wait on those. Some kids are more mature and can handle stuff like that at a younger age, but you'll have to test those waters yourself.

However, there really isn't a ton of anime specifically made for kids being marketed in English these days. Most of the market has shifted to older, "otaku" audiences, and aren't really suitable for young children. However, there's nothing stopping you from sifting through some of the kids' shows from decades past. Some of them have aged well, some of them haven't. But you can easily get DVDs of shows like Samurai Pizza Cats, Sonic X, Monster Rancher and several others -- they're still in print. But the vast majority of what we know as anime is almost certainly not going to be suitable until your daughter is at least 7 or older.

Certainly, we have some otaku parents reading this column. What have you guys done with your kids? Were you able to indoctrinate them? Let us know in the comments!

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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