Why Anime?

By Joseph Severino

Ghost in the Shell. Image copyright Masamune Shirow

A question that I frequently receive concerns how I became an anime fan, particularly from people who are not fans themselves.  I have long been a fan of animation of all forms.  Growing up, my childhood featured Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry prominently, and even in my college years my friends and I would frequently gather to watch shows such as Animaniacs and the first few seasons of South Park.  This does not even begin to mention my regular exposure to feature length animation films by Disney, Don Bluth, and others.  I had been enjoying a variety of forms of animation my entire life.  But it was also during those college years that I first watched Ghost in the Shell.

Even today fans and critics regard Ghost in the Shell as one of the masterpieces of Japanese animation, also known as anime.  It was certainly an auspicious place for me to begin.  The movie provided several things that I desired from entertainment, animated or otherwise:  a rich science fiction setting, deep characters, and complex and intriguing philosophies.  It provoked thought in addition to entertaining, something nearly unheard of in American animation.  This ultimately began my path down the rabbit hole, a path that has not yet reached an end even now almost sixteen years later.

I find it important to establish that anime is a medium.  Production of anime is not limited to one style; it covers every genre imaginable.  In the United States and many western countries, animation as a whole is typically pigeonholed as material strictly intended for children, and if you look at the content produced here then that assumption would be correct more often than not.  The same cannot be said for Japan.  Animated content enjoys viewership among people of all ages.  Though most anime titles are produced for people in their twenties or younger, there exist various niches that cater to both adult women and adult men.  But when I call this mature anime this refers to anime meant more for older teens and adults, and not something that is pornographic.  Certainly that exists as well but it is outside the scope of both my interest and more importantly this blog.

Having stated the above, I should mention that I enjoy a fairly wide variety of anime.  This fact drew me to anime as much as the intellectual aspect; not everything I watch has the same depth as Ghost in the Shell.  The idea that viewers could be introduced to a group of characters and follow along with their stories and personalities through an ongoing series of episodes intrigued me the most.  Western television, not just animation, tends to avoid continued story lines.  So while I enjoy the movies and short three to six episode miniseries, I probably spend most of my time watching televised anime series of thirteen to twenty-six episodes.  Not only does it provide the creative staff ample time to develop the plot and characterizations, but it also means that there will be a conclusive ending in what I consider a reasonable amount of time.

That leads to the last point I want to make in that Japanese storytelling is a bit different than in the west.  Not every story ends happily, and there are many that feature ambiguous endings.  Japanese culture permeates their creative output, and there are differences there either subtle or stark that not all westerners will be familiar with.  So anime will not be something that everyone enjoys.  For those that are new to the subject and are willing to learn more, I ask you to proceed with an open mind.  In my upcoming blogs I plan to introduce a variety of anime, starting with movies and then television series that neophytes and curious adults might enjoy better than the standard fare that most people know as anime.  Let me assure you of this:  most of what we see in toy stores or television are anime that were created for children twelve or younger.  Not all anime will be like Pokemon or Dragonball Z.