Reviewby Callum May,
What is anime? Through deep-dives with notable masterminds of the electrifying genre, this fast-paced peek behind the curtain seeks to find the answers.
Even without much hype, it's clear that Netflix's new Enter the Anime documentary will likely be the most prominent film covering this topic. Presented by NX on Netflix, the streaming giant's promotional brand for science fiction, fantasy, and anime, Enter the Anime introduces fans to the creators of Netflix Original anime series whilst getting to grips with Japanese culture and various subcultures.
Unfortunately, anime's newest documentary lacks direction, cuts interviews short, and is steeped in orientalism. It's telling that Enter the Anime opens with host and director Alex Burunova dismissing an old orientalist documentary, only to cut to similar shots of women in kimonos whilst asking “How does a culture like this create (gritty, dark and violent anime)?” It's even more telling that several of the accompanying shots were of Texas-based Powerhouse Animation's Castlevania series.
Burunova's voice-over that works as an intermission between interview clips turns the overall documentary into a duality where one side wants to create a travelog and the other wants to strictly promote Netflix Original shows. Whilst Burunova asks what anime is, the interviews seem to have been conducted separately from the apparent thesis of the film.
In an interview with Director of Anime at Netflix Taito Okiura, he states that the team at Netflix Japan likes to seek out “edgy shows: sci-fi, action, fantasy…that relatively travel easily on a global scale.” It's clear that this outlook has shaped the description of anime as a counter-culture and its creators as “deranged minds” within Enter the Anime. Of course, anime can exist as a form of rebellion, but it's difficult to consolidate this vision in a documentary where the only interviewee regarding Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac is the chairman of Toei Animation.
Even with this edgy outlook on anime, the documentary feels far too corporate. We hear from directors, producers and business leaders, but the closest the audience gets to animators and designers is occasionally peering over their shoulder at their computer screen. Some of these creators are able to offer some genuine insight, but others are able to offer little more than a vocal press release. Although it's hard to blame them when such interviews have been condensed into small snippets for an hour long film.
Alfred Hitchcock once stated that “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” But in this case, it seems that Netflix has assigned themselves God, and no matter what quotes they get from their interviewees, they were determined to stick by their original narrative (whatever that might be). Several anime creators bring up the fact that they are unable to have a life outside of work, and Burunova even references this point herself briefly before introducing Aggretsuko. Enter the Anime's failure to address these issues marks the most prominent anime documentary as little more than just marketing.
It's even difficult to accept it as just a few assorted clips from interviews due to the erratic and meaningless editing decisions. At one point, 7SEEDS director Yukio Takahashi stands in an empty room before jump cuts have him teleport all over the place, for no reason at all. Interviews in general lack intimacy with glitch effects and split-screens distracting from the points being made. On a visual level, Enter the Anime is unwatchable.
The only time that the editing genuinely amplified the original content was when they spoke to the lead staff of Kengan Ashura at Studio Hibari. Director Seiji Kishi and Yūji Higa particularly leaned into the silly act and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves while talking about CG anime creation. The editing nonsense also seemed to let up during a discussion of Rilakkuma & Kaoru with the team at dwarf studios.
Another highlight from the documentary involves a chat with Levius director Hiroyuki Seshita at Polygon Pictures where he is the first in the documentary to explain how anime is actually created (note: he's the second-to-last interview). Like with the Rilakkuma interview, the editing slowed down and the Levius staff were able to describe their process, make notes on several scenes and provide an effective introduction to the basics.
It would be nice if Enter the Anime could be described as a confused documentary that is ultimately saved by an educational lesson at Polygon Pictures, Seiji Kishi lifting weights, and the Rilakkuma & Kaoru staff talking about stop-motion animation, but the neighboring segments prove themselves to be either pointless, misleading, or outright orientalist. There are many things that could be fixed with a re-edit, but from the start, Enter the Anime was doomed to be little more than a marketing push.
Overall : D+
+ A couple of informative interviews with interesting creators
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