Neon Genesis Evangelion
"The time has come to cast aside these bonds and to elevate our consciousness to a higher plane. It is time to become a part of all things!" - Ghost in the Shell
Defined simplistically, anime is animation made in Japan. It's a bit like asking "What are American movies?" -- a question almost too vague to be useful. But if you look closely, you can identify overall trends, to which there will always be exceptions, and a variety of subgenres.
Animation has strengths and limitations that are very different from live-action movies or television. It's very easy to create the effect of a spaceship flying across a galaxy, while it's more difficult or expensive to make detailed, realistic human motion. The medium thus freed up anime by allowing it to make sci-fi or fantasy stories as easily as more down-to-earth fare, while its limitations led to a series of creative solutions to its problems (for which, see below). Naturally, the recent explosion of CGI is reducing anime's limitations. In this respect, anime faces the same challenges as animation from other countries, although it has met them in different ways.
The visual vocabulary
Both anime and its sister industry, manga (comic books), are a big part of the pop culture landscape in Japan and have been for many years. Thus, they've had time to develop means of representing reality in 2D, ranging from depiction of the human face (big hair, enormous eyes, tiny mouth and nose) to depiction of emotions (a sweatdrop on the forehead to represent embarrassment, a flower sprouting from one's head to show naiveté) to depiction of action (a lavish watercolor still to represent intense action). These conventions set anime off from its foreign counterparts.
It's an old saw among anime otaku (slang for "geek" or "fanatic"): "In Japan, animation isn't just for kids." Instead, there's a wide range of target audiences, from businessmen to housewives to schoolgirls to young boys. This has led to the establishment of a variety of genres you'd rarely see animated in the States, including romance, violent action, and even pornography (or hentai). Animation is also more respected in Japan than it is in America or the rest of the world (if for no other reason than there's a lot of money in it). Thus, there's room for many talented people who might otherwise work elsewhere.
Ghost in the Shell
An anime series most often begins life as manga (though anime can also be based on novels, or original concepts). Once a story has been chosen to animate, it can take three forms: television series, OVA, or theatrical release. Television episodes are a half hour long (with room for one commercial break) and always have an opening and ending theme song for the credits. A typical season is 26 episodes, although some popular series (ahem, DragonBall anyone?) seem to go on for ages. OVA stands for Original Video Animation, and means a direct-to-video release. (In America, they're sometimes called OAVs, for Original Animation Video. Pick whatever term you like; they mean exactly the same thing.) These actually have much higher production values than most television anime, and usually come in short series (like the six episodes of FLCL). Theatrical releases can be full-length, big budget films (Akira or Ghost in the Shell), but they can also be shorter movies released as double bills that are often indistinguishable from OVAs once they come off the big screen (for instance, the Love Hina Spring Movie).
Sub or Dub?
Anime is occasionally released theatrically in America, and sometimes shown on television, but the bulk of it is released on DVD. When a show or film is released to a non-Japanese speaking audience, though, the distributors have an important decision to make: sub (subtitled) or dub? This controversy remains the quickest way to start a fight among otaku. Those who like their anime dubbed prefer the immediacy of understandable dialogue and visuals uncluttered by ugly subtitles. Sub proponents want to listen to the original voice actors and prefer the more literal translations that usually make up subtitles. DVDs, of course, make compromise easier, allowing for removable subtitles and both English and Japanese vocal tracks.
If you wanted to break anime down into categories, a good rough division might be between shonen (boys) and shojo (girls) anime. This distinction is a lot sharper in manga, where comics are serialized in anthologies aimed at specific demographics. Once a series reaches anime form, an effort is often made to widen its appeal; there's also plenty of anime that doesn't fit neatly into either category. (For a conscious fusion of the two, see Escaflowne, a series that managed to feature a love triangle and giant robots.)
Bookmark/Search this post with: