Thursday, March 11, 2010

Intro To Anime

A few people have expressed an interest in learning more about anime, but not knowing where to start. It can be overwhelming! Sometimes I'm still overwhelmed by just how much is out there, especially since it's so much more accessible than it used to be.

Shall we start with a basic definition?

Anime: Animated TV series and movies from (mostly) Japan. And for the love of Pop Tarts, do not call it Japanimation. Ew. Even typing it made my blood curdle. It's anime, as in ah-ni-meh, if you wanna get really specific.

Unlike American animation, anime isn't solely geared towards children (I'm pretending Family Guy, etc don't exist, okay? American animation is a little embarrassing.). Here, we have this idea that cartoons are for kids, which I think is kind of lame. But in Japan, every age group reads manga (comics) and watches anime. There are many sub-genres within anime, the basics being children, teen, adult, and hentai (the dirty stuff). And of course there's sub-genres within those, like contemporary and fantasy (hmm, that doesn't sound like books at all).

This is why I hate hearing someone say, "Oh, anime—I hate Bakugan. Anime is stupid." Bakugan (or Digimon or Pok√©mon) is just one sub-genre of children's anime. But many westerners assume—because here cartoons are for kids—that this is the only thing anime has to offer.

Not true. Not at all.

Anime Characteristics: I think most people are more familiar with the look of anime than they used to be—the big eyes, the typically thin, willowy figures, and the crazy hair. But there are a lot of different styles, and some of "the greats" don't fit that mold at all.

But no matter the anime style, there's a lot of expressiveness conveyed. Eyes are enlarged or shrunken for a purpose—to convey a certain emotion. Same with mouths. And chibi style (when the characters are small and cute). The tear drops and other symbols are meant to exaggerate emotion.

American cartoons do this too (though anime does it better, hehe), just in different ways—eyes bugging out, heart popping out of chest, steam coming out of ears, etc.

What You Should Know Before You Watch: First, you should know what genre of anime the series is, because it may surprise you content-wise. If you're expecting something that's good, clean fun, then you might want to stick with children and tween anime.

Nudity and violence standards are different in other countries, and there is often more blood and gore in teen anime than some people might expect. There is sometimes nudity, but it's in the form of what I call the "Peach Bodysuit." No details, like a Barbie or Ken doll. If you are sensitive to those issues, you'll want to investigate the series first.

Luckily, you don't have to necessarily buy a series like you used to. There are many on Hulu and Youtube that are sponsored, and you can watch full seasons without the guilt of internet piracy. Or you can watch a few episodes, decide it's not for you, and move on.

How To Watch Anime: Dude, watch it in Japanese (English subs) and save yourself the torture of poor English dubbing. Seriously. I've watched anime in both, and I promise the experience is better in Japanese. The English is often overdone, because they're trying to make it American...and it's just not. They usually choose horrible, annoying voices, too, where the Japanese voices fit the characters.

Yeah, yeah, "it's hard to read subtitles!" Boo hoo. You get used to it. Trust me on this one.

A Few Recommendations:
(Please feel free to add your own in comments. I do not pretend to have seen every anime series out there, and I will miss some great ones.)

Best Place to Start: Hayao Miyazaki
You might already be familiar with Miyazaki's work, since Disney/Pixar's John Lasseter decided he'd "introduce Miyazaki to the world." (Except a lot of people already knew that Miyazaki is way, way cooler than Lasseter. Times ten. He's like the Godfather of anime.) Disney has since promoted My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and his most recent Ponyo.

Miyazaki's work spans both children's and teen anime, with movies like Ponyo and Totoro being for a very young age group and movies like Howl, Naussica, and Princess Mononoke being for a teen and older audience.

You can't really go wrong with Miyazaki. Everyone has their favorites, mine being Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky (Laputa in Japanese), and Howl's Moving Castle. But I like them all—I haven't seen a Miyazaki film I didn't like.

Action-Based Anime (some would say "boy anime," but I love action-based so nyah):
Evangelion: Shinji is chosen to pilot an Eva—the only machine/thing strong enough to defeat the never ending barrage of "angels" sent to destroy what's left of the human race.

Seriously bloody (I'd say an upper teen anime), but freaking awesome. I think it's still one of the most popular series I've seen out there. It's the machina (giant machines) trend at its best.

Dragonball: Yeah, it's old school, but it's awesome! It starts with Goku—a boy with a monkey tail who's from another planet. Dragonball Z was on Cartoon Network back in the day, which follows both Goku and his son Gohan.

Lots of fighting, but not bloody. I'd say it's in the tween category.

Naruto: Ninjas! Naruto is determined to become his Clan's top leader...except he's kind of a goof with a temper. Also in the tweenish category.

Bleach: I cannot express how much I love this series right now. Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, charged with saving souls from the Hollows, evil dead spirits. Bloody, but not as much as Evangelion. And there', a few large-breasted women, though I'm four seasons in and no kissing. Definitely in the upper teen category.

Romantic-Based Anime (some would say "girl anime," but it often has a healthy amount of action so nyah):
Fushigi Yuugi: Miyaka is sucked into a world like ancient China, where she must become the Priestess of Suzaku. As Priestess, she will be granted three wishes if she can gather the Suzaku Seven. Kissing, betrayal, action, and a bit of comedy.

There's a little blood, and some, uh, precarious romantic situations. The series would definitely be in the teen category. It's one of my favorites.

Escaflowne: Hitomi falls into another world (yes, a common theme), where she has more control than she realizes. Machina, winged guys, war, Atlantis.

This one is pretty dang clean. I'd put it in the tween category. The animation is a little older in style, but the story is fantastic.

Ouran High School Host Club: Haruhi, a tomboy, is mistaken for a boy and recruited into a "Host Club," where rich boys entertain bored, rich girls. It's gender bending. It's hilarious.

Clean in my book, though I suppose I should mention it deals a lot with gender and orientation, but I think in a very smart, mature way.

Okay, I think that's a long enough post. Anime is awesome. Go watch some!


  1. Oh my gosh Natalie! Thanks for this post! I grew up watching anime, but haven't seen anything new in a looooong time. I don't mind subtitles at all. Watching in the original language adds to the experience. That explains why I have never been able to read Allende, Garcia Marquez, Sabato and many others in English. There's a lot lost in translation.

  2. Yay for the anime post! Every one you mentioned is awesome.

    And everything made by Miyazaki rules. I have to go out and buy Ponyo; it just came out this past week.

    Do you have a favorite Miyazaki movie? I know it's hard for me to choose, but I love Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

    Also Whisper of the Heart is cute--it's about a junior high girl who's a writer. There's one other too, called Only Yesterday, but it was never picked up by Disney (and probably won't be, from what I read) because of the one part where they talk about a girl's "monthly visitor." There's an article on Wikipedia about it.

  3. I am laughing so hard right now for two reasons.

    1)I've said Japanamation hundreds of times (clearly I needed this Anime 101 lesson)

    2)For the first time I know why my little brother named his account on my parents computer Naruto. I had no idea what that was before.

    I also realized a little show my son loves called Teen Titans is Anime. I feel so informed!

  4. Oh and I agree--the best way to watch anime is with subtitles, in original Japanese. Although the Disney dubbed films aren't too bad, the anime series just aren't that great (especially when they use the same half dozen voice actors for each series).

  5. This is such an awesome intro post to anime! I am in love with Mizayaki's works, especially Kiki and Howl, and Ouran! Naruto is a tad bit long, but I also love that as well. And yes! The only way to go is to watch anime in Japanese with English subbed. After watching subs, dubbed!anime make me shiver--in a not so good way.

  6. Yay for this post! I love anime, and wish there were more American animes (I think Avatar came pretty close...)

    Fushigi Yuugi is excellent, as is Escaflowne. And I can't help but love Sailor Moon despite the crappy American version. And don't forget Inuyasha!

  7. Nice summary! But in case anyone is looking for Neon Genesis, it's spelled "Evangelion", and it's brilliant.

    Have you seen Haibane Renmei? I also really like the Irresponsible Captain Tylor and Fullmetal Alchemist.

  8. I would also like to throw in Death Note for those people who are looking for adult themed, dark anime.

    I'm excited because i'm getting my next Naruto disk in the mail today!

  9. My husband watches Death Note, but it's upper teen for violence, I think.

    My sibs watch Fruits Basket.

    I have seen neither, so I can't say one way or the other, but I love Miyazaki and Naruto and Dragonball and several others.

  10. One series I really like is Samurai Champloo, but it is firmly in the upper-teen range - violence, drinking, language, and sexual innuendo. There's some tame nudity, not too bad. But it's hilarious and fun.

    I'm also fond of Fruits Basket (Furuba), but the manga, not the anime. They kind of butchered the anime version, which made me sad :'(

  11. Ooh! You listed two that I haven't seen yet. Thank you, Natalie-san.

    And I am SO with you on the spoken language. The Japanese really know what they're doing there. And the guys sound hot. It's true. I won't lie.

  12. Anime rules! Great post :) ADore Castle in the Sky and Howl's Moving Castle :)

    Still haven't watched the others...seen clips but not all my thing.

  13. My kids have started us watching 'The last Airbender', and even the grandparents like it. My japanimation, oops, strike that, anime knowledge is otherwise non existent. Unless you count watching Akira once way back. Thanks for the lesson!

  14. We own both Princess Mononoke & Howl's Moving Castle, both excellent works of art. =)

  15. For a grittier, film-noir style anime, check out Cowboy Bebop, which is geared towards teens and adults. And it's one of the few anime titles with an excellent English sub.

  16. So glad to see another anime nerd out there, spreading the gospel. You rock, Natalie!

    I am going to second Howl’s Moving Castle, and Avatar: the Last Airbender, even though it’s not technically anime because it was made in America. BUT they basically used all the anime drawing techniques and shading. So that’s why it looks like an anime. The guy who wrote it also loves anime, so he’s familiar with the common themes in anime.

    Another must see in my humble opinion is Fullmetal Alchemist. OH. MY. GOODNESS. AND the English dub is good (in my opinion), for those of you cutting your teeth. I would place it in the upper teen category though, because it can be a little violent and bloody, and some of the concepts are for a more mature audience.

  17. I loved this post! My knowledge of anime consists of basically what I read in this post. But now I want to hulu it up!

  18. Yay! Look at all those fans out there:) I just got back from the dentist, so I can't reply to everyone, but...


    Oh, I'm ashamed.

    Thanks for the other suggestions, and oops on the Evangelion spelling. I was rushed this morning. Eek.

  19. Anime at its best can be GORGEOUS. Even if the main characters have clean, even simple, lines, the backgrounds are generally rich and full of texture. The complexities of the "set-dressings" are absolutely astounding.

    It's also a lot more sophisticated than most American animation. (and that stylisation is what called those seizures a decade ago because of the quick flashing lights and scenes).

    Miyazaki is often called Japan's "Walt Disney", but his work is much more artistic. (Now, I will spot you the fact that the original Disney films were a lot more artsy than the simplified ones they make today).

    I'll add one more warning to the list. DO NOT GOOGLE IMAGE specific anime unless you're prepared for the content. Some of it can be shocking to American eyes.

  20. Josin, good point on the image searches! Beware! lol.

    And I agree about the anime putting more aesthetics into their work. Some of the series are just gorgeous to look at. It feels like they take the medium seriously.

  21. One of the best anime series aesthetic wise is Mushishi. Plus the whole supernatural/mythological aspect is pretty awesome too.

    I still need to get that series on DVD...they used to have all the episodes on Hulu but not anymore :(

    LOL, I could talk about anime for hours. I'm definitely close to otaku status when it comes to it...

  22. I actually started watching Bleach after you raved about it on Twitter. I'm happily surprised it turned out so good. Hulu is a blessing in disguise for bringing over the lucrative anime the networks won't touch.

    Bamboo Blade, Hiraku no Go, The Prince of Tennis, Spice and Wolf & Samurai Champloo are on my top ten animes to see.

  23. Did any of you see the news story last week about the man who was arrested for owning anime because the content was considered child porn by US standards?

    Incidentally, this was not a person with porn on their computer or other paraphernalia. It was something like 10 books of a commercial Japanese title in a multi-thousand, multi-bookshelf collection, most of which he'd never even cracked the spine on.

    But, because he imported, purchased and "archived" what wouldn't even raise an eyebrow in Japan, he was arrested as a "pervert".


  24. Thanks for the recommendations. I've seen Evangelion and LOVED it. I would also add that Trigun is an excellent series and a good place to start.

  25. Great post, Natalie! I agree with Vetta on adding Cowboy Bebop to this list. That, along with Steamboy, are the only anime I will watch dubbed.

    I should say though that Naruto gets bloodier at times, as the series continues. Probably into the older teen category.

  26. Since you left out Oban Star Racers, you've invalidated your entire list.

  27. I've never even heard of Oban whatever racers...

  28. I'm a Naruto-Bleach-One Piece girl. Sadly, I'm current with all three, and have to occupy myself for 3 weeks so that I can watch 3 weeks episodes at once. lol. I'll have to try out Evangelion and some of the others you recommend.

    My fave Miyazaki is one that he storyboarded byt didn't write, called Whisper of the Heart (Mimi no sumaseba). It's a slice of life story about a chuugakusei (JHS student). I really want to go see his museum before I leave Japan.

    Question: have you ever been to Japan? You're so into so much of it.

  29. And I need to rewatch DBZ. I grew up on it, but I watched DB Evolution the other day, and I couldn't remember the characters storylines!

    Also, I second watching it subbed. The only anime series that I found was decent in dub was Full Metal Alchemist, the first series.

    Now I'm decent enough to understand the Japanese anyhow! So I can go watch the movies when they come out. Tekken in two weeks! :D

  30. Claire, I haven't been to Japan. It's one of my major goals in life though! Now I just need the money, sigh.

    My husband did live there for a couple years. He really wants to go back, too.

  31. Going to Japan is a goal in my life too. That and taking a Japanese class (which is slightly more realistic for me now money-wise) I really would love to go for a research trip for my novels.

    I love reading these comments and seeing how many people love anime and Japanese culture too :)

  32. Well, if either of you are here in the next 15 months or so, let me know.

    @Natalie, where was the hubby and what did he do? ALT or military? That's what most Americans do here.

    Also, I gave you the Sunshine Blog Award for brightening my day. :)

  33. Claire, he actually served a mission for our church. He lived in Kyoto and Kobe for most of that. (And thanks for the award;P)

  34. Thanks for doing this post! I've been curious about anime ever since a professor on my creative writing MA program recommended Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke as examples of good narrative.

    Also, do you have any good manga recommendations?

  35. Jessie, you might try the Naruto manga. The storyline is farther along than the anime, and the only non-awesome parts of the anime are the so-called "filler" -- episodes where the storyline strays from the original manga.

  36. Yep. This is exactly what I need. More time-wasters.

    My favorite anime series of all time is El Hazard. Totally old-school, and WAY too funny. I'd like to be Shayla Shayla when I grow up.

  37. I've loved Miyazaki for a long time (my favorites are Naussica, HMC, and Whisper of the Heart), but I've never really gotten into anything else. My brother said "Death Note" is really good, so I might try that out, or one of your other recommendations.

    Your comment about "large breasted women" reminded me about one of the Gundam series my husband and I used to watch when we were dating. There were a few characters that, whenever they popped (tee hee) onto the scene, we'd both bust (bwhaha) out laughing. Good times.

  38. Thanks Adam for the recommendation! I love ninjas (having spent a lot of my childhood pretending to be one) and Naruto sounds awesome.

  39. We have ENTIRELY the same taste in anime.

  40. usually the Japanese voices are better, But at times American ones are cool to. PLus, American vioces have more distinction/variety.

    And oh, Escaflowne was like one of the first animes I ever watched. Besides pokemon that is lol

  41. Some of my favourites include:

    Afterschool Charisma
    Death Note
    Elfen Lied
    Fruits Basket
    Fullmetal Alchemist
    Highschool of the Dead
    Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni
    Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien
    Lament of the Lamb
    Millennium Snow
    Ouran Highschool Host Club
    School Days
    Tramps Like Us
    Trinity Blood
    Vampire Knight

    Awesome article Natalie, I had no idea you were an otaku. For the "What you should know before you watch" I'd also add that the greater your understanding of Japanese culture and customs, the more rewarding the viewing experience. This is especially true in regards to honourifics, as well as Japanese history. I've been learning Japanese for a while now, and the more I study the more I notice things that I hadn't before!