213763-grave-of-the-fireflies-re-releaseWith the popularity of anime continuing to grow in Ireland, Aengus Cunningham takes a closer look at this form of Japanese animation

The popularity of anime has been growing in Ireland of late and, while it is by no means common, it is certainly no longer a rarity. As films by Studio Ghibli like The Wind Rises, and shows like Attack on Titan grow in popularity, many are growing more interested in the genre. It is absolutely worthy of notice. Anime has shown itself to be, like any other genre, capable  of artistic merit (and an absolute blast to watch when it gets moving). Anime is essentially a form of Japanese animation, both in film and television, which has its own distinct style and feel and is not just for children, a view quite commonly held about animated media.

Anime can demonstrate a tone or subject that can mimic and range from the most sophisticated of historical examinations, such as Grave of the Fireflies, through to the most grindhouse and silly comedies. There can be films that are very family friendly, whilst still harbouring mature and heavy material. In the same way that many hold Pixar’s Up to be a masterpiece, there are those who consider Studio Ghibli, the Japanese anime heavyweight, to have made superior work in this same niche with films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. While ensuring that the end product is as accessible as possible, you will find that the work they turn out has been made to ensure that it is both thought-provoking and mature.

AnimeFeatureImageAnime has its own style in terms of animation and story; it has grown up outside the heavy influence of the West. The plots for the shows, with a few exceptions such as Cowboy Bebop, tend to have series-long plots. This is reminiscent of many of the more popular dramas in the West and really allows for characters to have complete arcs while fleshing out the worlds they inhabit – look at Steins; Gate or Fullmetal Alchemist for examples. The animation here also very much allows for an immersive world, so those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy could very easily find something to latch on to. Action is another distinct characteristic of anime (when it appears) as it tends to be incredibly sharp and at its best it’s electric. It remains poignant and easy to follow, and even at its worst, still pretty cool to see. It would be pointless to condense all western TV and so this is not an attempt to downplay this art form.

The introductions to shows tend to be quite important, with particular attention to the opening credits, as with a show like Game of Thrones. It has become iconic, but in Japan this is on a much larger level, so much so that they all have to be no longer than 90 seconds exactly. These can be absolutely fantastic, like in Cowboy Bebop, or Death Note, and indicative of the feel of the show, while other times they can simply be opportunities for the latest pop star to get their music out.

The biggest hurdle to overcome for those watching anime, as someone from outside Japan, is the clear cultural differences present in the storytelling. Relief comedy is used heavy-handedly to break up the more serious sections. This comedy can be unfortunately slapstick or silly in nature, and shows like Angel Beats can sometimes allow it to get in the way of otherwise compelling stories. In worse cases, some depictions can be quite unsettling for a Western audience. Often the worst descriptions of anime come from this incomprehension of a foreign culture. Characters can seem stereotyped because of norms regarding heroism and gender roles, but this is easily seen through. Anime is not without its flaws, but cultural differences, while not flaws, are often obstacles to acceptance.

Anime’s impact on western media can be seen in many very high profile productions. Darren Aronofsky, for example, is a director who has drawn huge inspiration from anime. He bought the adaptation rights to the anime film Perfect Blue so as to utilise shots and scenes in filming Requiem For A Dream, later on simply adapting the film for a Western audience to create the Oscar-nominated Black Swan. Similarly, Christopher Nolan used the basis of the film Paprika to create his critically acclaimed Inception, while Ghost in the Shell helped inspire The Matrix and is in talks to be adapted for a western audience starring Scarlett Johansson right now.

In television, anime is also becoming an inspiration for shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra. The Boondocks is in a very clear and pronounced anime style of animation, while still getting across a very clear social commentary on US culture. Anime is (rightly) becoming more of an influence in Hollywood and global television, with the marked increase in cherry-picked anime material the perfect proof.

When looking at anime as a genre of both film and television, it’s clear to see that like any other genre across both animated and live action T.V., it can be either good or bad. If you are a person that feels happy to be able to watch an animated film or show, from The Simpsons to Pixar and Disney, then anime is absolutely something that you should attempt. There are many reasons to enter into this wonderful world of both film and television and some of its best stuff, like Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children, can be considered a classic in its own right. The foreign style can put off many, but if you’re able to look past that, there are some truly astounding pieces of entertainment to be experienced.