Very few people I meet have neutral attitudes towards Japanese animation. It’s one of those things that you either “get” or one of those things that you stratch your head wondering why people who don’t look like children love such a childish thing. The only people I know that aren’t one or the other are people like myself that were very much into it at one point but whose interest waned with time.

As far as I know, most of my readership is not into anime. So, as a public service announcment, I will lay out what it is that I see in it.

American television (let’s leave animation aside, for a moment) typically follows certain story rhythms. We put shows into nice, neat little categories. We have family comedies with clueless fathers and goofy neighbors. We have buddy-group comedies about young singles on the prowl. We have office comedies that are generally unlike any office we’ve ever been a part of. In one-hour increments we have lawyers and detectives handling cases one episode at a time or civilians that shockingly have someone they meet that week die that week every week.

I’m not knocking American television. A formula does not generally make or break a show. The question of whether or not we care if Ross and Rachel or Sam and Diane or Niles and Daphne or Ashley and Pete get together are as interesting or boring as the writers make them. But by and large they work from a similar framework.

Anime, on the other hand, works from a very different framework. Because the animation is (generally) so unrealistic, they are free to incorporate wild elements into everyday life. Imagine Sam and Diane mixed with the outlandish martial art fights and a gender-bending curse. It may be utterly unappealing to you, but it’s not generally something you’ve ever seen before. Imagine a show wherein the End of the World is a subplot, simply the contextual backdrop to what’s really going on?

The more of it you watch, the more you start to recognize the anime story rhythms. The main reason my interest started to dwindle is that it stopped being original. The fifth time you see a variation of the same anime set-up (say a clueless guy surrounded by conniving female suitors) before the originality stops being interesting enough to keep your attention. But the great thing about anime is that it was like starting from a blank slate. Everything was new and original.

Some of the originality was based on the different things you can do with animation without breaking a budget or having it look too weird (particularly when the characters are markedly non-proportional, as is the case with most anime). There’s no reason that American entertainment can’t capture some of this originality and more and more it’s doing just that (Airbender – The Last Avatar being a stellar example). But there’s also the originality that comes with a foreign culture. They have different cultural norms and assumptions about how people act. This just adds some spice to the stew, in my opinion.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everybody. A lot of people used to believe that we were on the cusp of an entertainment movement (of, if anime, than animation aimed at non-children*). And in a way we worry as anime is so much bigger and more in the mainstream now than it was back in the day. But for the most part it’s still a niche programming, but popular enough to be lucrative and not anywhere near the source of embarassment it might once have been.

In some ways it’s interestingly become too big to be interesting. It used to be that there were comparatively so few releases that if you met an anime fan on the street there was reason to believe that you had seen at least some of the same things. There were so few voice actors that you got to follow them from one show to the next. Many shows had nearly identical voice casts, which was actually kind of fun. Now they’re translating and pumping the stuff out so fast and with so many people that some of the community and continuity seems to be lost.

* – The question of age-appropriateness is increasingly becoming moot (though I don’t think it will ever be entirely so). Barney and Power Rangers aside, a lot of the new entertainment aimed at kids is interesting and complex enough for adults. There’s no denying that children are the intended audience for Harry Potter, for instance, but it’s written in a way that parents and kids can read it together. It seems that less of the cartoons that I saw growing up are remotely interesting past puberty. I think that this is on the whole a good thing.

Category: Theater

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6 Responses to Why I Like(d) Anime

  1. Veronica says:

    So far as I’m aware, the “mainstreaming” is so damned teeny-bopper that it’s REALLY contributed to the boredom factor. The 100-200 episode “7th Grader on a Neverending Quest” shows? Ugh.

  2. logtar says:

    I have been an anime fan since I was a kid (had no idea there was a distinction back then) with varying degrees of addiction throughout.

    A lot of it had to do with the people that I encountered on the watching “community” here in the US. Now that I have found a group of people at a local anime club I have found a new way of connecting with people via anime.

    I like most shows that don’t go to the hentai realm. And enjoy most Shonen like Naruto or Bleach currently running… but I am more into the fansub or subtitled stuff than the voice over tragedies we sometimes get here.

    I think entertainment is changing here in the US thanks to Anime… not because we see more here but because of its influence. The Matrix opened up a can of worms, and people went wow… (many of us had already seen that kind of sci-fi before) and now you get shows like 24 and Heroes that get away a little from the traditional formula… some people might say it started with Twin Peaks or X-files. Ok that is my confusing run on comment.

  3. Spungen says:

    I loved Speed Racer, does that count?

    Do you think more white people like anime now, or there are just more Asians in the U.S. who like anime?

  4. trumwill says:


    That’s a good observation. Unfortunately, the kind of things that I like about anime (particularly their limited-series default format) are not the ones that are getting the most attention. I guess even now it’s hard to sell a network on a TV show that only 26 episodes were ever made for.

  5. trumwill says:

    I am more into the fansub or subtitled stuff than the voice over tragedies we sometimes get here.

    Bahhhh… subtitle snobbery! A lot of the arguments that they used to make about the quality of the translations of each turned out to be quite wrong when I started watching anime with both the dubbed and subtitles turned on.

  6. trumwill says:


    When I first got interested, whenever I would mention anime people would mention that they would say “You mean like Speed Racer?”. A little later on when I mentioned it people would say “You mean like Sailor Moon?” or “You mean like Dragon Ball Z?”… then it moved on to Pokemon. People would be a lot more approving when we would cite Speed Racer. Sailor Moon and DBZ were more embarrassing. Pokemon somewhere in between.

    To answer your question, it’s definitely whites. Other than the Asians at my high school the number of Asians that are into it are actually quite small. I think in part because most Asian immigrants I run across are Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean rather than Japanese. I’ll be going to an anime convention soon and can report the racial demographics when I do.

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