I Don't Like Anime

Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009, 1:12 PM


When I grew up in the 70s, I didn't see any animation from Japan. I know there were some around, like Astro Boy, and Kimba The White Lion, but I don't recall any of it being broadcast in New Zealand. If it was, I overlooked it.

In the 80s it started to appear, but not in the forms most people think of Anime today. There was one about Peter Pan, another called The Yearling based on a book about a kid and his pet fawn, and one I think was falsely named Thunderbirds 2086, barely connected with the real Thunderbirds series. And even then, I looked at this crude animation, staccato frame rate, irritating drawing style, horrible english dubbing, weird inexplicable surrealism, and bizarre pacing, and thought it was inferior and a waste of my time.

I look at Anime and Manga and just can't connect with it. The Japanese sense of storytelling always seems to be either overacted melodrama, a childish (rather than juvenile) sense of humour, or unexplained oddness for the sake of oddness. And it has become so ingrained in their traditions that they don't think it requires development or exposition anymore, as their audiences already accept and "get" it.

It's a cultural divide that leaves me confused. I think I'd have to dedicate myself to sitting through a lot of their stuff before I'd start to get it, but I am not willing to subject myself to the torture of watching what I think of as ugly, unrefined, messy insanity.

When I first saw the lauded Akira, expecting to finally understand what all the fuss was about, I instead was left dazed and mystified on what the hell the ending was about. It started out well, as a dystopian fascist world is fought against by rebellious teens on whizzy motorcycles - but then mad scientists burst into humongous alien giant babies, and the city explodes. The End. I mean, what the holy fuck?

There are always exceptions to the rules, of course. Not all Anime has giant robots, huge explosions, and big doe-eyed spikey haired wide-shouldered smouldering heroes with unfeasibly big swords. But they do all seem to have toothless gasps, sweaty droplets, and long gaps in the conversation left unadjusted, making the pace of dialogue stop-start.

One exception is often argued to be Hayao Miyazaki, who has a more sedate and deeper approach to storytelling. I do enjoy the casual surrealism of Spirited Away, even though it is utterly weird in most places. The gentle quiet moments can be quite beautiful. However, I found Princess Mononoke to be pseudo-eco mysticism at its most maddening, and I gave up on it when I realised I didn't care about any of the characters, due to not understanding one whit of what was going on. It was just a lot of spirits swirling around in an attempt to save their environment, and an unrequited love story. I think.

As the 90s and 2000s passed, more and more Anime is being produced, seemingly catering to specific popular genres. Fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes superhero, ideas are thrown around with wild abandon. Things hardly touched upon in Western entertainment find a place where they are embraced and developed in huge expansive ways - Steampunk, hard SF, surreal dream imagery, alternative history, underwater and deep space travel - if you want to see it, Anime will provide numerous examples of it.

And that's so disappointing, I'd love to watch more genre stuff, but I can't stand watching anime for longer than five minutes before I want to gasp, sweatily, and tear my spiky hair out.

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