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Otakon 2002: Parent's Guide to Anime

posted on by George Phillips
Got kids? Want to watch anime with them, but aren't sure what to let them watch? Why not read this summary of an informative panel from Otakon..

A Parent's Guide to Anime

Peter Prellwitz and Gilles Poitras lead a discussion in anime appropriate for younger children.

There are many different reasons why children (and parents!) need educated about anime, and by watching anime one can learn a lot about the "general" Japanese society. However, not all anime is acceptable to everyone, and so there are a lot of aspects that parents should be aware of, when letting their children watch anime.

One thing that both Peter and Gilles stressed is that parents need to be aware of what their children are watching. Parents may have strong feelings about nudity, relationships or other matters that are signficantly different than those of the Japanese. This doesn't make anime "bad", but parents need to be aware that what they view as socially acceptable and socially taboo may be very different than what anime presents.

Many children find anime exciting because of emotional storylines. These could be seen in the same light as fairy tales of old -- as Grimm's Fairy Tales and similar works addressed fears and emotions of its readers, so does anime, today. While Pokémon or Dragon Ball Z might not appear to have much of a plot, the whole concept of "improving ones-self" strikes a powerful chord with many of its viewers.

While fans today complain of editing and removal of storylines, anime on TV is presented, by and large, in a form much truer to the original Japanese. 20 years ago, a show like Cowboy Bebop would not have even received a passing glance by any respectable TV network. Even 10 years ago, few executives believed that adults could seriously enjoy animation. Today, thanks to decisions made by Cartoon Network and Encore Action to carry anime content, we can see that significant changes in broadcasting philosophy have been made, and anime can receive "proper" treatment on television. As American societal values and beliefs have changed, so have television standards and practices. Today, Americans are more aware of differences in cultures, and are willing to compromise to find a mutually acceptable mesh of beliefs.

If you're worried that your children may be unwilling to read subtitles, Gilles Poitras says not to worry -- children are much more capable than many adults give them credit for. Additionally, watching subtitled anime will improve their reading skills (an educational benefit from watching anime!). In fact, many kids find it exciting to read along and interpret the story in their own way.

Unfortunately, there is very little anime produced for children less than 2 years old. Even child-safe titles like Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro might be frightening or confusing to very young children. Around age 6, however, many more titles exist that parents will find more suitable for their children.

Some of the titles mentioned for young children include:
My Neighbor Totoro
Kiki's Delivery Service
Card Captor Sakura
Magic Knight Rayearth
Irresponsible Captain Tylor
Fancy Lala
Campus Detective
Sailor Moon

As children grow up, other titles like these may become more acceptable:
Oh! My Goddess
Kodomo no Omocha
Marmalade Boy

While boys and girls watch different anime, some titles can transcend gender and age barriers. Girls can enjoy the fighting and political intruigue of Gundam Wing, and boys can find strong emotional relationships in the characters of Card Captor Sakura, for example. Don't be afraid to experiment and show your children a title that doesn't obviously appear to be directed towards them -- they might actually enjoy it!

Nudity in kids' anime isn't meant to be pornographic. Instead, it reflects a difference in society between Japan and America. My Neighbor Totoro has a brief scene with the two girls and their father sitting in a bath together. In Japan, this practice is common, and thus Japanese viewers identified the scene with a strong, caring family. In the western world, however, bathing with others is often viewed as erotic or at least immoral. In the mid-1990s, when Fox released Totoro, they seriously questioned the need for keeping this scene. In the end, they left it intact because it showed how close their family actually was.

Bath scenes like the one found in Totoro might confuse or startle parents new to anime. In fact, Gilles told a tale of a parent who borrowed a Ranma 1/2 tape from a library, to show her children. She put the tape in and left her kids alone. After it finished, they wanted to watch it again. She sat down and proceeded to watch. When Ranma and company entered a bath house and proceeded to disrobe, the mother she quickly stopped the tape and dashed to the library, demanding why they allowed such pornographic material available for children. As stated above, such nudity is acceptable in Japan. As Gilles explained, the mother understood the situation better, and returned home. From his experience, this form of nudity has provoked the largest number of complaints about anime.

If your children watch anime, it's only a matter of time before they bring their friends over to watch their favorite movies. As a parent, you should be aware that your child's friends may not be familiar with Japanese society. Watch out for anti-Japanese sentiment, however. Some parents still have strong emotions about World War 2 and its aftermath, and may become quite upset with your children's viewing habits. If you fall into a situation like that, be careful not to overly upset them, although if you feel it's appropriate, you may attempt to discuss matters with them.

Additionally, your children's friends may watch shows that you find inappropriate for your child. It's suggested that you set boundaries as to what is acceptable and unacceptable. If, as they grow, you think they can handle more mature situations, then sit down and watch a title that dips into it with them. It's not "wrong" to be protective of your children!

If you're looking for resources for titles appropriate for young children, there are several sources which examine the content of anime. First and foremost, Stonebridge's Anime Encyclopedia is a great resource which lists content that parents might find unacceptable. With 2000 entries, it is the largest resource for anime shows available in English.

If you're concerned about a specific title and can't find any other resources for it, rec.arts.anime.misc on Usenet is a good place to ask questions. Thousands of people regularly read and post on this public message board. Most browsers have built-in support for reading newsgroups, too. Contact your ISP for information about connecting to Usenet. Gilles also maintains a list of anime that libraries might want to invest in, including a number of titles that have very little objectionable content. Of course, any website that reviews anime can also be useful in chosing anime to purchase or avoid, for young children.

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