Why Anime?

Objectively, anime/manga better than American alternatives. So why the need to justify?
anime, criticism, philosophy
2011-02-122014-09-14 in progress certainty: unlikely importance: 2


The pop­u­lar­ity of anime in the 1990s and among nerds re­flects in part a his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gen­cy: the fail­ure of Amer­i­can and West­ern me­dia to de­liver long-form nar­ra­tives deal­ing in fan­ta­sy, sci­ence fic­tion, and non-re­al­ism of every type, and which can cater to a niche or re­flect a unique artis­tic vi­sion (en­abled by the cheap­ness of man­ga/LN pro­duc­tion and the 1980s–1990s OVA eco­nomic mod­el) while ben­e­fit­ing from the flex­i­bil­ity of an­i­ma­tion in de­pict­ing any­thing with­out enor­mously costly SFX, while in­stead West­ern me­dia fo­cused on syn­di­cated mass mar­ket low­est­-com­mon-de­nom­i­na­tor live-ac­tion se­ries. The post-90s TV re­nais­sance and ex­tra­or­di­nary rise of ‘pres­tige se­ries’, sci­ence fic­tion and su­per­hero fran­chise, and con­tin­u­ous ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in SFX ca­pa­bil­i­ties/de­crease in cost, sucked much of the wind out of ani­me’s sails. While still hugely pop­u­lar both in Amer­ica & over­seas, and an ac­cepted part of the cul­ture, it no longer is as ex­cit­ing as it used to be, or a grow­ing jug­ger­naut.

So if anime can no longer boast unique ac­cess to di­ver­sity and long-form SF/F nar­ra­tive, what does anime still uniquely offer us? Why not just go geek out over the lat­est MCU or Star Wars movie ad nau­se­am? I sug­gest it is sim­ply that it is one of the most-de­vel­oped for­eign me­dia sources, which gains value sim­ply be­cause it is differ­en­t–­for­eign, and not so Amer­i­can. Haven’t you seen enough of that? Even a mediocre for­eign work gains in­ter­est from the nov­elty and differ­ences.

One might won­der whether a hobby can be a ‘bet­ter’ hobby than an­oth­er. Maybe genre pref­er­ences is some­thing you just should­n’t ar­gue about, like whether choco­late ice cream is bet­ter than vanil­la. But it is sen­si­ble to think about. Why should any­one like anime or watch a lot of it?

“How do you jus­tify ani­me/­manga as a hob­by? I catch a lot of flak and be­cause of that tend to hide my hobby from oth­ers.”

Anony­mous

There’s no hard-and-fast dis­tinc­tion be­tween a hobby and a job (knit­ting Kata­mari Damacy hat­s), or a ca­reer1, or mere con­sump­tion (is ‘TV watch­ing’ a ‘hobby’?), or char­ity (build­ing houses with Habi­tat for Hu­man­i­ty), or moral­ity (learn­ing mod­ern the­ol­ogy, dis­cussing is­sues in util­i­tar­i­an­ism2). ‘Hobby’ is not a nat­ural kind. No one would ques­tion whether you should try to com­pare jobs, ca­reers, con­sump­tion3, or char­ity4.

Which of these is­sues is more im­por­tant will de­pend on specifics, of course; the tea con­nois­seur is more affected by eco­nomic & so­cial jus­tice is­sues, while the job-hunter may worry more about cor­po­rate ethics, and the TV watcher may be in­ter­ested in rec­om­men­da­tion al­go­rithms to op­ti­mize en­joy­a­bil­ity per hour (s­ince there is more to watch than one could ), or is­sues of pri­vacy (see Narayanan & Shmatikov 2008). But there are is­sues to think about.

A real problem

The ques­tion is often posed by anime crit­ics. How to de­fend watch­ing ani­me? It’s in­ter­est­ing that anime is this pop­u­lar; you don’t hear peo­ple ask­ing how to de­fend their love of Ko­rean wave movies and soap opera. It was­n’t al­ways this way—back in the 1970s, anime was so rare as to not be worth dis­cussing, and even in the 1980s it was a phe­nom­e­non lim­ited largely to col­lege cam­puses where home­made VHS fan­subs could be aired for se­lect en­thu­si­asts.5

It seems to be a fact that anime is over­rep­re­sented in the Amer­i­can mar­ket com­pared to mov­ing pic­ture prod­ucts of other coun­tries. How many British pro­duc­tions does one see in Amer­i­ca, de­spite Eng­land be­ing one of the clos­est cul­ture to Amer­i­ca, de­spite all their pro­duc­tions be­ing in Eng­lish by de­fault, de­spite 70 years of tele­vi­sion ex­cel­lence by the BBC, etc. etc.? Not very many. Or how about Bol­ly­wood, one of the most pro­lific cin­e­mas in the world, ac­tive since the 1930s? Or the afore­men­tioned Ko­rean films? (That the Amer­i­can re­make of the crit­i­cally ac­claimed & com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful Old­boy fell through, and the DVD re­lease ob­scure, only em­pha­sizes the point.)

Defense

Endogenous, not exogenous

Per­haps the fail­ure of all non-Japan­ese sources is due to some mar­ket de­fect. Hol­ly­wood is in­fa­mous for its ac­count­ing stan­dards, less than trans­par­ent deal­ings, and back­room agree­ments; it is rea­son­able to sug­gest that the game has been rigged. Or maybe the mar­ket is over­sat­u­rat­ed—­too many would-be cooks. But why would ei­ther of these not have kept ani­me/­manga at 1970/1980 lev­els? What ex­empts them? Or per­haps the Japan­ese are some­how sim­patico with Amer­i­cans and can spe­cially ap­peal to the Amer­i­can psy­che; but then, why aren’t British works clean­ing up (surely the British are even closer cul­tur­al­ly), and why are French manga sales (with 1/6 the pop­u­la­tion of Amer­i­ca) even stronger than Amer­i­can sales? I know of no ex­pla­na­tion, so in the ab­sence of con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence, should­n’t the de­fault ar­gu­ment be that ani­me/­manga is sim­ply a bet­ter qual­ity prod­uct than the Amer­i­can com­peti­tors?

Why is anime good?

What pre­cisely is good about ani­me/­manga is highly de­bat­able, to say the least. Nor is it some­thing that we need to dis­cuss for the pur­pose of de­fend­ing anime watch­ing, as long as we have ev­i­dence that anime is worth watch­ing. As the Bud­dha re­marked on some­one ask­ing after the na­ture of heaven & hell rather than how to ob­tain en­light­en­ment:

It is as if a man had been wounded by a poi­soned ar­row, and his friends & rel­a­tives pro­cured him a sur­geon. But the man says, “I will not have this ar­row out un­til I learn whether my in­jurer were Brah­min or Ksha­triya; tall, short, or medi­um; black, dusky, or of yel­low skin; from this or that city; whether it be an or­di­nary or claw-headed ar­row…” The man would die with­out learn­ing all this.

But let’s dis­cuss it any­way.

I have heard peo­ple say that the edge comes from Amer­i­can me­di­a’s aban­don­ment of the se­r­ial for­mat in fa­vor of a sta­tic episodic for­mat that would syn­di­cate profitably and which would draw no crit­i­cism by its an­o­dyne con­tent in which the good guys al­ways win, or from main­tain­ing a di­ver­sity of gen­res rang­ing from moral­is­tic child tales to com­edy to busi­ness wars to de­tec­tive sto­ries while Amer­i­can comics slowly de­gen­er­ated into ever more in­vo­luted su­per­hero comics and Amer­i­can TV retrod the same ac­tion-ad­ven­ture for­mu­las. What fol­lows is my sub­jec­tive take, gleaned from my own idio­syn­cratic , (eg ), and SF read­ing habits. This seems plau­si­ble to me, any­way. De­fend­ing anime on es­thet­ics grounds seems easy. Amer­i­can car­toons were, be­fore the ad­vent of ani­me, marked by an episodic for­mat that de­stroyed any de­tailed over­ar­ch­ing plot-line, and were not vi­su­ally ac­com­plished; fur­ther, they were highly stereo­typed and com­mer­cial en­ter­pris­es, in a bad way. Japan­ese pro­duc­tions were quite com­mer­cial too, but the devil is in the de­tails—Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam was de­signed to sell toys, but has be­come so much more than a model ad­ver­tise­ment. In Amer­i­ca, it would never have be­come more. Japan hosts amaz­ing fan­doms like Touhou Project or Vocaloids which in­vite par­tic­i­pa­tion67, but one of the most ac­tive fan­doms in Amer­i­ca, for George Lu­cas’s Star Wars (& to some de­gree), is char­ac­ter­ized by the copy­right hold­ers do­ing their best to limit fans to pas­sive con­sump­tion8:

“We’ve been very clear all along on where we draw the line,” said Jim Ward, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Lu­cas­film. “We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact some­body is us­ing our char­ac­ters to cre­ate a story unto it­self, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fan­dom is about. Fan­dom is about cel­e­brat­ing the story the way it is.”

Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion was ham-stringed to be both a sin­gle medium and a sin­gle genre (chil­dren’s). In com­par­ison, Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion was a sin­gle medium that cov­ered every genre that TV cov­ered9. One could grow up in Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion, from Ham­taro to chal­leng­ing films like Mind Game. One could not do this with Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion. (Di­rec­tor Hideaki Anno has won­dered “if a per­son over the age of twenty who likes ro­bot anime is re­ally hap­py.” The jury is still out for Japan­ese ro­bot ani­me, but Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion has al­ready pled guilty & been sen­tenced.)

Fur­ther, anime ex­celled in gen­res that Amer­i­can TV con­fined to ghet­tos. There are many fine fan­tasy and SF anime from the 1990s, but I find it painful to try to watch live-ac­tion Amer­i­can prod­ucts from the ’90s like Her­cules or Baby­lon 5. The coun­ter-ex­am­ples like The Ma­trix al­most prove the point, the Wa­chowski broth­ers hav­ing been quite ex­plicit about their debt to anime and spon­sor­ing The An­i­ma­trix.

What com­pe­ti­tion does anime have in Amer­i­ca?

  • Movies?

    Dis­ney was a big player here, but as Anno says, their out­put is highly lim­ited and they’ve been burned by big an­i­ma­tion fail­ures such as Trea­sure Planet or The Black Caul­dron. Pixar comes to mind for re­peated ex­cel­lence, but that’s a Dis­ney sec­ond-party and again just one stu­dio with in­her­ent lim­its. There’s Dream­works, but you don’t need to be a film critic to see that they chase Pixar’s tail­lights, and like Dis­ney & Pixar, they are fo­cused on the oc­ca­sional film re­lease.

  • TV?

    There’s a lot of TV kids an­i­ma­tion, but they seem to be fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on ei­ther pre­teen stuff (Dis­ney Chan­nel and Nick­elodeon and Car­toon Net­work), or on crappy low-bud­get adult com­edy (Adult SwimCom­edy Cen­tral runs lit­tle an­i­ma­tion nowa­days). Fur­ther, they’re all pretty episod­ic—the sus­tained dra­matic plot arcs and de­vel­op­ment that is ani­me’s sig­na­ture is usu­ally non-ex­is­tent. (And this de­spite tech­no­log­i­cal ad­van­tages and larger bud­gets than ani­me.10) For many decades, Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion has been a dis­ap­point­ment out­side of Dis­ney.

    “The vi­sual as­pect of comics is what got me into the pro­fes­sion in the first place. It seems ridicu­lous to not take ad­van­tage of that to the fullest ex­tent you can. An­i­ma­tion is, I think, the ful­fill­ment of the car­toon. There is noth­ing you can­not do in an­i­ma­tion. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, an­i­ma­tion has not taken ad­van­tage of that ei­ther, and usu­ally ends up with stu­pid sto­ries or crude art. The whole car­toon in­dus­try has de­gen­er­ated over the years.” –Bill Wat­ter­son, 1989

    The in­ter­est­ing thing is that think­ing back to my child­hood, as painful as the live-ac­tion SF or fan­tasy were, there were ac­tu­ally a lot of good car­toons. I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self at some point while watch­ing Nick­elodeon in the early 2000s that there just did­n’t seem to be any new car­toons there that were any­where near as mem­o­rable as Ren & Stimpy, Rock­o’s Mod­ern Life, Doug, Aaah­h!!! Real Mon­sters etc.—ap­par­ently the ’90s have been dubbed the Re­nais­sance Age of An­i­ma­tion or the Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion re­nais­sance and more specifi­cal­ly, the Dis­ney Re­nais­sance eg. Duck Tales (com­ments).

    But as good as the ’90s were for Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion, the good times never last and Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion stood in the wings wait­ing for its op­por­tu­ni­ty, which would come in the late ’90s and 2000s.

To get an ex­am­ple of what I mean, look at the 2 sea­sonal list­ings (eg. those charts posted for each sea­son) for ani­me. There’s not al­ways a lot of good stuff, but there are still usu­ally 4 or 5 se­ries a year worth watch­ing. And that’s not count­ing any movies or OVAs that may be re­leas­ing. (Can you imag­ine the Gar­den of Sin­ners movie se­ries be­ing done in Amer­i­ca? Im­pos­si­ble!) Heck, the Noit­a­m­ina11 block alone prob­a­bly show more so­phis­ti­cat­ed, artis­tic, and adult-watch­able anime every year than Dis­ney or Pixar. Anime pro­ducer Hi­roaki In­oue es­ti­mated in 2003 that, de­spite the small anime in­dus­try in Japan (most work is out­sourced)12, still “roughly 80 thir­ty-minute episodes of anime are pro­duced for weekly view­ing on Japan­ese TV, for a to­tal of about 4000 episodes a year; on top of this, roughly 15 an­i­mated the­ater-bound movies are made per year, and about 100 thir­ty-minute OVAs”. In­oue sug­gests that the cru­cial in­gre­di­ent is not so much that anime adopts plot-in­ten­sive arcs, but sim­ply that they some­times are pro­duced by peo­ple with an idio­syn­cratic vi­sion, and there are enough tries that the oc­ca­sional di­a­mond is cre­ated13. (As com­pared to live-ac­tion, the virtue of an­i­ma­tion is that it makes the easy things hard, but the im­pos­si­ble hard­er.)

And this hap­pens, year after year.

Crit­i­cal­ly-ac­claimed se­ries like Samu­rai Jack were a re­ac­tion to the demon­strated con­sumer de­mand for long-form se­ries. Truly episodic TV fic­tional shows seem to be ever rar­er, and sur­vivors from ear­lier eras, like The Simp­sons, have grown more plot-ori­ent­ed—in an ear­lier Flint­stones era, it would have been edgy to merely ref­er­ence events from pre­vi­ous sea­sons and un­think­able to kill Maude Flan­ders. It’s in­ter­est­ing to spec­u­late on why. I’ve heard many the­o­ries, from DVRs to pre­mium ca­ble chan­nels like HBO to greater IQ14.

What’s in­ter­est­ing about anime is that if you look at Amer­i­can print SF & fan­tasy and what­not, it’s wildly cre­ative and fas­ci­nat­ing, but any­thing in mov­ing pic­tures is ei­ther a crit­i­cally suc­cess­ful fail­ure or dreck. In Japan, the lit­er­a­ture is­n’t so im­pres­sive (with hon­or­able ex­cep­tions like Haruki Mu­rakami), but the manga and anime are re­ally good. They Were Eleven would be merely a mediocre short story if it were pub­lished in an Amer­i­can SF mag­a­zine, but in­stead, it’s one of the bet­ter SF movies around (be­cause all the Amer­i­can SF movies are so bad). Or con­sider Star Trek; while Star Trek has been hugely pop­u­lar in Amer­i­can SF cir­cles al­most to the point of syn­onymi­ty, Star Trek was merely fairly pop­u­lar in syn­di­ca­tion in Japan15. Amer­i­can TV se­ries offer an­other case in point: one of the best re­ceived SF se­ries of the 2000s was Fire­fly, which was al­most surely in­flu­enced by the pop­u­lar 1998 anime Cow­boy Be­bop.16 None of the SF sto­ries in ei­ther Fire­fly or Cow­boy Be­bop break new ground in SF, in­stead trad­ing in clas­sic SF sto­ries and tropes; but they do so in a pol­ished, styl­ish fash­ion.

From that per­spec­tive, it’s not a sur­prise that if we look at the re­spec­tive mar­kets, we find that Amer­i­can print SF is very pop­u­lar in Japan17, and Japan­ese ani­me/­manga is very pop­u­lar over here. You might call this com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage at work.

But what do I know? Maybe anime is re­ally about prepar­ing Amer­i­cans to be col­o­nized by their Japan­ese mas­ters18 or maybe the real rea­son is that anime is so stereo­typed & repet­i­tive & poorly an­i­mated & over the top that even men­tally de­fec­tive nerds can en­joy it, and so they do. Per­haps anime gained a toe-hold here and grew ex­po­nen­tially be­cause it is bad:

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a ro­bust pot­boil­er, tongue-in-cheek, very com­pe­tently done. I think it’s en­joy­able, but even among those who don’t, it’s hard to see the film at­tract­ing ac­tual de­ri­sion. Bore­dom or ir­ri­ta­tion, prob­a­bly, but noth­ing more. Star Wars, on the other hand…. From one per­spec­tive, it’s an en­ter­tain­ing space op­era, but from a slightly differ­ent per­spec­tive, an im­per­cep­ti­ble twist of the glass, it’s laugh­ably aw­ful. Ut­terly ridicu­lously bad. And it’s this very bad­ness that makes so many peo­ple take up arms in its de­fence… The qual­ity of the work, in the face of such glar­ing short­com­ings, be­comes a mat­ter of faith – and faith is a much stronger bond than mere ap­pre­ci­a­tion. It dri­ves fans to­geth­er, gives them strength against those who sneer. The sneers make their faith even stronger; the aw­ful­ness of the work re­as­sures them of their be­lief. And so the fan groups of Tolkien, Star Trek, Spi­der-man, Japan­ese kid­die-car­toons etc. de­velop an al­most cult-like char­ac­ter. I need to stress that I’m just talk­ing about as­pects of bad­ness; the above works all have their many ad­mirable qual­i­ties which at­tract peo­ple in the first place (though in the case of Anime I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what they were).” –“ob­jects of fan­dom”, Stephen Bond

I have no idea how to re­spond to such an ar­gu­ment (what could pos­si­bly dis­prove claims like those he makes?), but will sim­ply note that it seems like an aw­fully sus­pi­cious damned-if-y­ou-do-damned-if-y­ou-don’t line of thought.

Bonus points

What the old school guys mourn is­n’t the loss of their [anime] com­mu­ni­ty, their sense of pro­pri­ety over an un­ap­pre­ci­ated art, or the thrill of hunt­ing for strange and rare ar­ti­facts from a mys­te­ri­ous for­eign cul­ture. What’s miss­ing is the new­ness, that star­ry-eyed open-mouthed gape of a child at a world hereto­fore unimag­in­able, and the ex­cite­ment of shar­ing that new ex­pe­ri­ence with those around us. To­day, we are not the chil­dren, we’re the chap­er­ons shout­ing, “slow down!” – obliv­i­ous to the joy in the room.19

The critic of anime prob­a­bly con­sumes Amer­i­can pop cul­ture him­self, and has some ar­gu­ment for its en­ter­tain­ment value (let’s call its value AV). Anime is Japan­ese pop cul­ture so let’s call its en­ter­tain­ment value JV. If the Japan­ese pop cul­ture is merely as en­ter­tain­ing as Amer­i­can pop cul­ture (as we have li­cense to be­lieve based on its in­roads into Amer­i­ca), then it can win on other grounds. It car­ries ed­u­ca­tional value sheerly from its ori­gin (call ed­u­ca­tional value JEV). One will learn lit­tle from an Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion by virtue of be­ing an Amer­i­can. If and then (just as ).

To de­feat this, one needs to ar­gue one of the fol­low­ing:

  1. deny the sec­ond premise, and say that

    This is say­ing that Japan­ese pop cul­ture is not ed­u­ca­tional in any way. A false­hood, since at the min­i­mum one is learn­ing about the Japan­ese way of life2021

  2. deny the first premise, and claim that

    Say that Japan­ese pop cul­ture’s en­ter­tain­ment value is worse than Amer­i­can pop cul­ture, hence is not nec­es­sar­ily greater than AV; this po­si­tion is diffi­cult to de­fend, given ani­me’s com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess­es. If anime is less en­ter­tain­ing than Amer­i­can pop cul­ture, then why is it so pop­u­lar? Are the fans sys­tem­at­i­cally ir­ra­tional?

    And if the critic reaches even fur­ther and tries to ar­gue that anime is bad for you, they in­vite the coun­ter-ques­tion: “And why do you think Amer­i­can pop cul­ture is not equally or even more toxic for one’s mind?”

  3. Deny all premises and say that pop cul­ture in gen­eral is val­ue­less, that all val­ues = 0

    is a con­tra­dic­tion, and the ar­gu­ment col­laps­es. But this po­si­tion ex­poses the ar­guer to charges of hypocrisy, since why does he con­sume pop cul­ture if all pop cul­ture is worth­less, and on what ground could he crit­i­cize anime at all? Most ar­guers are try­ing to es­tab­lish a rank­ing in dis­fa­vor of ani­me, not sim­ply say ‘a pox on both your houses’.

We could re-run this ar­gu­ment with ‘novel’ or sense of won­der rather than ‘ed­u­ca­tional’. We have no prior rea­son to sup­pose Japan­ese pop cul­ture any less in­no­v­a­tive than Amer­i­can pop cul­ture, but to an Amer­i­can, the Japan­ese me­dia will be highly nov­el. Even a bor­ing Hindu fa­ble could be in­ter­est­ing if it’s the first one you’ve ever seen.

This is a gen­eral pur­pose ar­gu­ment for pre­fer­ring for­eign me­dia or lit­er­a­ture. To some, this would be a re­duc­tio, but to oth­ers it will make per­fect sense. Why read about things you are al­ready fa­mil­iar with? It may be a crude sort of Ori­en­tal­ism to value anime just for its “Japan­ese­ness”22, but why does this mat­ter if one en­joys it as so many do?

Pearls before swine

Most peo­ple would­n’t ap­pre­ci­ate these 2 ar­gu­ments, so I don’t usu­ally try to jus­tify watch­ing ani­me, and just say de gustibus non est dis­putan­dum or à cha­cun ses goûts23. (If some­one wants to dis­cuss phi­los­o­phy, though, that’s fine. “When you meet a swords­man, show him your sword / do not offer a poem to any but a po­et.”)


  1. Face­book was­n’t in­cor­po­rated from the get-go, and the 1990s and 2000s are lit­tered with tech­no­log­i­cal gi­ants which started as a hobby such as Lin­ux.↩︎

  2. And speak­ing of util­i­tar­i­an­ism, be­cause hob­bies and me­dia con­sump­tion use up re­sources, they are a valid tar­get of cri­tique—5 or 10 DVD box sets might cost 1 dead baby.↩︎

  3. ‘You should buy fair trade choco­late in­stead of Her­shey’s!’↩︎

  4. The en­tire rai­son d’être of Givewell or Char­ity Nav­i­ga­tor.↩︎

  5. I read in the archived text files of one BBS that some­times when fan­subs were un­avail­able and no one there spoke Japan­ese, anime clubs might watch an episode any­way.↩︎

  6. Even if the in­vi­ta­tion could be best de­scribed as a kind of trolling; from the talk “Rid­ing on Fans’ En­er­gy: Touhou, Fan Cul­ture, and Grass­root En­ter­tain­ment”

    Touhou also mo­ti­vates fans to cre­ate be­cause it has se­ri­ous flaws: ZUN knows how to cre­ate won­der­ful char­ac­ters, yet his draw­ings leaves much to be de­sired. If Touhou were a com­mer­cial en­deav­or, none of his draw­ing would ap­pear in it, but ZUN has kept the Touhou games as am­a­teur works from the start. Fans are frus­trated with the draw­ing style, so they take upon them­selves to beau­tify ZUN’s draw­ing. A large amount of fa­narts that are ‘bet­ter than the real thing’ fol­lows. Iron­i­cal­ly, many fans (my­self in­clud­ed) are at­tracted to Touhou be­cause of these sec­ondary art­works.

    I sur­mise that the same rea­sons ex­plain why Touhou ap­peals to mu­sic lis­ten­ers. ZUN’s mu­sic are im­per­fect: while they con­tain many catchy mo­tifs, they don’t sound har­mo­nious and can be arranged bet­ter. Again, be­cause they can be im­proved and have many good parts, Touhou mu­sics be­came pop­u­lar among remix­ers. Some groups such as dBu mu­sic re­pub­lish ZUN’s com­po­si­tions song by song, chang­ing only the MIDI in­stru­ments. Other groups would arrange the mu­sics into differ­ent styles (such as Jaz­z), re­com­bine mo­tifs them to make new mu­sics, or add lyrics. These mu­si­cal arrange­ments seem to be the most effec­tive ad­ver­tise­ment for the Touhou se­ries nowa­days. Many over­sea fans dis­cov­ered Touhou through a flash video clip used to pro­mote ‘Marisa ga Tai­hen na Mono wo Nusun­deiki­mashita’, an arrange­ment of Al­ice Mar­ga­troid’s theme by IOSYS. Touhou mu­sics are also widely used to make MAD movies in Nico Nico Douga. Pop­u­lar songs such as ‘U.N. Owen ha Kanojo nanoka?’ and ‘Na­tive Faith’ would have hun­dreds of MAD videos un­der their belts.

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  7. Con­tin­ued:

    …It is in­ter­est­ing to note that, in the case of The Ma­trix or Planet of the Apes, the cre­ators cre­ated deep and con­sis­tent worlds so that view­ers can be ab­sorbed in un­cov­er­ing the de­tails. [16] Gen­souky­ou, how­ev­er, is a shal­low and in­con­sis­tent com­po­si­tion. It sit­u­ates in a moun­tain in Japan, yet there are Eu­ro­pean vam­pires liv­ing in it. ‘I like to put west­ern things in there be­cause it’s “East­ern”, hehe,’ said ZUN. [17] Al­so, the cul­ture of Gen­soukyou is that of 19th cen­tu­ry’s Japan, but all Touhou games take place in the years they are re­leased. For this, ZUN com­mented that ‘Well, I live in mod­ern times, so it makes it much eas­i­er. And I get to in­clude things like rock­ets. If I had a set­ting in the past, I’d have to study a lot of his­to­ry.’ [18] More­over, the Hakurei Bor­der that sep­a­rates Gen­soukyou from the out­side world is porous, al­low­ing peo­ple and ob­jects from mod­ern Japan to go in. In fact, the de­mon con­trol­ling the bound­ary even knows how to use iPod! It’s clear that ZUN chooses to make a mal­leable world rather than a con­sis­tent world so that he can keep mak­ing new Touhou games eas­i­ly. While this choice de­ters fans form de­ci­pher­ing the world, it en­cour­ages fans to cre­ate their own sto­ries be­cause noth­ing in Gen­soukyou is sa­cred and a lot can still be added to it. The large amount of dou­jin­shi ac­count­ing daily lives of Touhou char­ac­ters is a proof of this ten­den­cy.

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  8. For ex­am­ple, The Phan­tom Edit was ini­tially re­leased anony­mous­ly, Star Wars Fan Film Awards be­gun re­luc­tantly & with highly re­stric­tive rules, and it is well-known that any fan pro­duc­tion which is sold, lives un­der Damo­cles’s sword, re­gard­less of how much it costs to dis­trib­ute.↩︎

  9. To quote Anno again:

    Japan is the only coun­try in the world that ac­tu­ally has an anime in­dus­try, and can mass-pro­duce an­i­mated works of a high qual­ity for a large au­di­ence. It’s only nat­ural then, that this prod­uct would be in de­mand from the rest of the world. Japan is un­ri­valed in this sense. Dis­ney is re­ally no com­pe­ti­tion be­cause Dis­ney can only re­lease one film at a time. They are not ca­pa­ble of han­dling the wide range of sto­ries that we see in Japan­ese ani­me. Real anime ex­ists only in Japan, and this is about the only orig­i­nal prod­uct Japan can offer to the world—anime, manga and com­puter games.

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  10. In­oue 2003, be­ing para­phrased/quot­ed/­sum­ma­rized by Eri Iza­wa:

    There are two main rea­sons that full 3D ren­der­ing is not that com­mon yet. First­ly, of the 80 episodes air­ing each week, only a few se­ries will run for a full year. Many last only 13 episodes (a sin­gle cy­cle of episodes, or a “Cool”), so there is no eco­nomic in­cen­tive to in­vest in full 3D mod­el­ing and ren­der­ing. Sec­ond­ly, the costs of Japan­ese TV an­i­ma­tion are still about a quar­ter the cost of pro­duc­ing Amer­i­can TV an­i­ma­tion. A third rea­son that Mr. In­oue later men­tioned is that 2D art has cer­tain strengths over 3D art…With Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion, re­cent movie scenes fea­tur­ing many horses or other an­i­mals are made pos­si­ble by com­put­er­ized an­i­ma­tion. How­ev­er, too often in Japan, there is not the man­power nor re­sources to do these ex­ten­sive scenes. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, this re­sults in such scenes be­ing avoided com­plete­ly. For the sake of sto­ry-telling and re­main­ing true to a sto­ry, com­puter graph­ics are nec­es­sary for Japan’s an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try.

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  11. I’m a big fan of the Noit­a­m­ina se­ries. What a se­lec­tion—Tatami Galaxy, Wan­der­ing Son, AnoHana, Shiki, House of Five Leaves, Bunny Drop… Some of these se­ries, I won­der whether Amer­i­can net­works out­side HBO would even dare run a live-ac­tion ver­sion. Could you imag­ine Wan­der­ing Son on Fox TV? I can’t.↩︎

  12. In­oue 2003:

    Mr. In­oue was asked how many peo­ple it takes to cre­ate a show. He ex­plained that a typ­i­cal 30 minute TV anime show takes roughly 120 peo­ple: per­haps 2-5 char­ac­ter, me­chan­i­cal, and back­ground de­sign­ers; 4-6 sce­nario writ­ers, 40 in the an­i­ma­tion team, 30 peo­ple to do fin­ish­ing/­touch ups, back­ground, and com­posit­ing/­com­bin­ing; and 20-30 peo­ple to do voice act­ing and sound tech. A film such as Sen to Chi­hiro (Spir­ited Away) re­quires about 500 peo­ple. Stu­dio Ghi­bli it­self, al­though com­prised mostly of an­i­ma­tors, only has about 100 peo­ple; they rely on nearly 500 or so peo­ple out­side the com­pany for con­tracted work, sounds, and other sup­port. In ad­di­tion, 2/3 of the an­i­ma­tion jobs are over­seas, con­tracted out to an­i­ma­tion com­pa­nies in Ko­rea, Chi­na, Tai­wan, and the Philip­pines. These days, he not­ed, 80 episodes a week would re­quire tens of thou­sands of an­i­ma­tors, but Japan sim­ply does­n’t have the num­bers of peo­ple re­quired for that much work. Mr. In­oue later ex­plained that cur­rently in Japan, there are about 10 large an­i­ma­tion hous­es, 30 medium sized ones, per­haps 2000 tiny com­pa­nies (some­times with as few as 3-4 peo­ple). In the larger com­pa­ny, of the 300 or so work­ers, only 20% are ac­tual em­ploy­ees with ben­e­fits; the rest are ba­si­cally con­trac­tors. Hence (he not­ed) there is no job se­cu­ri­ty, and he “can’t rec­om­mend the in­dus­try” un­less a per­son is par­tic­u­larly good.

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  13. One might call this the au­teur the­ory of ani­me:

    Mr. In­oue also spoke with me pri­vately at length about why it is that Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion has been able to pro­duce so many shows of good cal­iber (he be­lieves 20% of most anime is ac­tu­ally good qual­i­ty, as op­posed to our usual say­ing that “99% of every­thing is crap”). Part of this is be­cause, he sug­gests, once a di­rec­tor has es­tab­lished him­self as a suc­cess­ful money mak­er, the stu­dio be­come tol­er­ant of his de­sires to make ex­per­i­men­tal or vi­sion­ary pro­duc­tions. So, al­though Spiel­berg may have had to use the pro­ceeds off the pop­u­lar Juras­sic Park to fund his per­sonal project Schindler’s List, Japan­ese stu­dios seem to be will­ing to make deals with their di­rec­tors—al­low­ing them to make small mar­ket or niche films so long as they do not ex­ceed a cer­tain bud­get (as ex­am­ples, he said a dream film bud­get may be set to 2 hun­dred mil­lion yen, while a stu­dio mon­ey-mak­ing film may have a full bud­get of five hun­dred mil­lion yen—which is fine as it may bring in three bil­lion yen in rev­enue). Mamoru Os­hii, who di­rected the pop­u­lar anime Pat­la­bor, took ad­van­tage of this al­lowance to make a live ac­tion film [The Red Spec­ta­cles]. Al­so, he not­ed, a suc­cess­ful di­rec­tor can often push the en­velope—­such as hap­pened with Gun­dam, one of the ear­li­est se­ries to por­tray the death and de­struc­tion of war in such a re­al­is­tic way. As­pects such as the­se, Mr. In­oue be­lieves, has al­lowed the Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try, de­spite be­ing a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise that must make a profit to sur­vive, un­usu­ally blessed in its abil­ity to cre­ate works of pro­found­ness and in­sight.

    Mr. In­oue men­tioned an­other fac­tor in the di­ver­sity of ani­me. He said that “ever since Evan­ge­lion, there is no anime [series] that is watched by every­one.” In other words, mod­ern anime is no longer is tied to the mass mar­ket, and it may be freer to seek out niche mar­kets and smaller au­di­ences.

    Toshio Okada, anime pro­ducer turned aca­d­e­mic, holds a sim­i­lar opin­ion (trans­lated Aera ar­ti­cle):

    Amer­ica al­ready had Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion and a tra­di­tion of comics, but they had a strong im­age as be­ing strictly for kids. How­ev­er, in Japan at some point, an­i­ma­tion had headed off in a sep­a­rate di­rec­tion. Vi­sual ex­pres­sions never be­fore seen. Beau­ti­ful pic­tures. Com­plex sto­ries. Mas­ter­ful per­for­mances. And the dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties of each mem­ber of the cast of char­ac­ters. An­i­ma­tion was thought to be cheap, but it was an art which had risen to a level wor­thy of the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of adults. To Amer­i­cans, with their love of new things, it looked re­ally cool. And so the peo­ple, things, and cities ap­pear­ing in Japan­ese anime be­came their new im­age of Japan. This was spread­ing not the cus­tom­ary ex­oti­cism, but cy­ber and pop Japan­ese cul­ture.

    The word ‘com­plex’ shows up again with ANN colum­nist Brian Han­son:

    Ani­me’s “suc­cess” in those heady years of Toon­ami and Dragon Ball Z be­ing the high­est-rated car­toon show on tele­vi­sion and what­not… it was to­tally a “right place, right time” sit­u­a­tion. By that time anime had sort of found its “niche” in the West­ern mar­ket thanks to the ground­work laid out by Stream­line and Akira and Ghost in the Shell, in the sense that peo­ple had a sort of vague idea what anime “was” and that it was this differ­ent, edgy thing com­prised of lim­ited but ki­netic an­i­ma­tion and com­plex sto­ries and other things they haven’t seen be­fore. And, thanks to some savvy mar­ket­ing and slick pre­sen­ta­tion cour­tesy of Car­toon Net­work and Tele­toon and oth­ers, anime was, for the first time, read­ily and eas­ily avail­able. You could flip on the TV and catch an episode of Out­law Star or In­uyasha or Cow­boy Be­bop and rec­og­nize that it was anime, but it was pre­sented and mar­keted in such a way that made it seem cool and al­lur­ing. And as a plus, the shows were re­ally good and they were made for a wider au­di­ence than Japan­ese Otaku. The au­di­ence for anime was ready for it, but they had­n’t had it pre­sented to them in a sim­ple way thus far; now that it was lit­er­ally in their homes and edited so it was “safe,” anime was, by all ac­counts, a cool thing.

    Or “odd­ity” or “in­san­ity”; from “Pop­u­lar­ity Con­tests”:

    Re­ally quickly on this, be­fore I launch into a com­pletely sep­a­rate is­sue en­tire­ly: yes, yes, yes! In­uYasha is more “pop­u­lar” be­cause of its TV air­ing on Adult Swim and Tele­toon and else­where in the West­ern world. Mil­lions upon mil­lions of Eng­lish-s­peak­ing fans were ex­posed to it. And they loved it. Why would­n’t they? Ru­miko Taka­hashi knows how to hit an au­di­ence’s nar­ra­tive and char­ac­ter plea­sure cen­ters like a tac­ti­cal mis­sile strike. Fun, lov­able char­ac­ters in out­landish sce­nar­ios, fight­ing tooth-and-nail against im­pos­si­ble odds. Ro­man­tic en­tan­gle­ments with slap­stick jol­ly­ment. Never mind that Ranma ½ never got a TV air­ing; how in the world could it ever be aired on na­tional tele­vi­sion? Even if you cut out the nu­dity (ren­der­ing en­tire scenes and episodes un­airable), the en­tire premise of a sex-chang­ing pro­tag­o­nist is some­thing far out­side the com­fort zone of most broad­cast­ers. Es­pe­cially in the ear­ly-to-mid 90’s, when Ranma was one of the hot­ter anime com­modi­ties.

    In a way, though, that odd­ity is ex­actly what helped it in those early days of west­ern fan­dom. Where else, out­side of anime and man­ga, could such in­san­ity ex­ist? I re­mem­ber my ex­po­sure to Ranma came from the Su­per Nin­tendo game—specifi­cal­ly, a re­view in EGM. “What the heck? A boy who turns into a girl, whose fa­ther is a pan­da? Char­ac­ters named ‘Mousse’ and ‘Sham­poo’? What is this quack­ery?” I thought to my­self. A cou­ple trips to Block­buster Video some years lat­er, and I un­der­stood. Boy, did I love it.

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  14. See Flynn effect and Every­thing Bad Is Good for You.↩︎

  15. Ya­suhiro Takeda (in ) could only de­scribe Japan­ese Star Trek fans as “a large per­cent­age” of all Japan­ese SF fans; an Amer­i­can would prob­a­bly have had to say ‘nearly all fans’, es­pe­cially be­fore Star Wars offered an al­ter­na­tive.↩︎

  16. Con­sider all the dis­cus­sion of the two in my CSE. It’s worth not­ing that Joss Whe­do­n’s first hit, the 1997 Buffy does­n’t have any clear con­nec­tions to anime be­sides a vague re­sem­blance to ma­hou shoujo, but Whe­don has ac­knowl­edged the can­celed an­i­mated Buffy se­ries’s debt to Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries—whose co-cre­ator Bruce Timm is a fan of anime like Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion.↩︎

  17. Hard-to-ob­tain sales fig­ures aside, I be­lieve this as­ser­tion be­cause I see all sorts of Amer­i­can SF ref­er­ences in anime which one might not ex­pect. Takeda’s The Notenki Mem­oirs men­tions a num­ber of Japan­ese SF au­thors who also trans­lated Eng­lish SF on the side, and Gainax’s work is lit­tered with Amer­i­can ref­er­ences, from Cord­wainer Smith’s In­stru­men­tal­ity of Mankind to Flow­ers for Al­ger­non to Larry Niven’s Known Space to Har­lan El­lison’s “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”; most ex­treme­ly, I ran into one ru­mor that a par­tic­u­lar well-re­garded au­thor had hired a stu­dent to trans­late new sto­ries from Amer­i­can SF mag­a­zines which he would then rewrite for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion!↩︎

  18. “Brain Div­ing: Schodt Through The Heart”, Ruh:

    So what is the prob­lem­atic con­clu­sion Newitz reaches in this ar­ti­cle? I think it can be summed up in her con­clud­ing sen­tence: “Anime help ac­cus­tom Amer­i­cans to a sub­or­di­nate po­si­tion in re­la­tion to Japan.” In other words, watch­ing anime is set­ting us in the US on a path for a cul­tural and eco­nomic takeover by Japan. (This idea may seem far­fetched now, given the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate, but may have been gen­uinely wor­ri­some in the late 1980s and early 1990s.) That’s quite a claim! Surely she must have an ar­ray of solid ev­i­dence and de­tailed analy­sis to sup­port this. Un­for­tu­nately not. She dis­cusses that there are many differ­ent races rep­re­sented in anime (specifi­cally men­tions Rid­ing Bean and Bub­blegum Cri­sis as ex­am­ples), yet all of these char­ac­ters speak and (some­times) act Japan­ese. There­fore Newitz draws the con­clu­sion that this “Amer­i­can-look­ing mul­ti­cul­ture is in fact Japan­ese,” in­tended for a tar­get au­di­ence out­side Japan, and presents an omi­nous view of the fu­ture in which Japan­ese cul­ture and lan­guage have taken over the world. And it’s a be­nign takeover for anime fans since, ac­cord­ing to Newitz, “When Amer­i­cans are anime otaku, they are in a sense ad­mit­ting that they want to be col­o­nized by Japan­ese cul­ture.” This of course over­looks the more straight­for­ward idea that anime is in Japan­ese be­cause it’s in­tended for a Japan­ese au­di­ence.

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  19. Justin Se­vak­is, “Buried Trea­sure: In Praise of Nerdi­ness”, ANN↩︎

  20. Anime nat­u­rally demon­strates a va­ri­ety of Japan­ese val­ues (although one might not draw all the same lessons), from lit­er­ary al­lu­sions to or­di­nary parts of life like not wear­ing shoes in­doors or stu­dents clean­ing the schools or sil­lier ex­am­ples like the akanbe ges­ture or the kan­cho prank. One could claim fur­ther differ­ences: Scott Mc­Cloud’s Un­der­stand­ing Comics em­pha­sizes the differ­ent ap­proaches manga often takes in de­pict­ing events or sce­nes, and there are per­sis­tent claims that one sees en­tirely differ­ent sto­ry-types fo­cus­ing less on con­flict, such has the pop­u­lar iyashikei and slice of life gen­res (the lat­ter often ex­em­pli­fied by yonkoma man­ga). One irony is that leg­ends of the Amer­i­can ani­me/­manga scene sought to min­i­mize the Japan­ese­ness of works; for ex­am­ple, the late trans­la­tor & busi­ness­man Toren Smith brought many clas­sic se­ries to Amer­i­ca, but ul­ti­mately quit the busi­ness in dis­gust, par­tially due to his cho­sen style—flip­ping pages, lo­cal­iz­ing by relet­ter­ing sound effects, trans­lat­ing into id­iomatic Eng­lish eg, re­mov­ing hon­orifics, as ex­em­pli­fied in his re­lease of Nau­si­caa —be­com­ing less pop­u­lar & profitable.↩︎

  21. Wal­ter Murch; quoted in Mar­cus Hearn’s The Cin­ema of George Lu­cas, pg 37:

    Japan­ese films are in­ter­est­ing to us be­cause they were made by a cul­ture for it­self. The prob­lem that George [Lu­cas] and I found with sci­ence fic­tion films that we saw is that they felt that they had to ex­plain these strange rit­u­als to you, whereas a Japan­ese film would just have the rit­ual and you’d have to fig­ure it out for your­self.

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  22. “Notes on Azu­ma’s Otaku Data­base An­i­mals (1. The Otaku’s Pseudo-Japan)”, dis­cussing Hi­roki Azu­ma’s Otaku: Data­base An­i­mals:

    Let me speak per­son­ally here as an Amer­i­can and hope that I’m speak­ing for oth­ers as well. I am at­tracted to the pseudo-Japan of anime and manga sim­ply be­cause it’s not Amer­i­ca. As the dom­i­nant cul­ture, we are every­where in the world. We have to watch as our cul­ture suffo­cates tra­di­tions all over the world, and to be hon­est it feels kind of bad. I don’t like be­ing part of this, yet there’s noth­ing I can do to fight it. When I hear that some na­tion’s do­mes­tic film in­dus­try can’t com­pete with our im­ports, I re­al­ize that it is their own choice to let their cul­ture wither in fa­vor of the Amer­i­can cul­ture. So, my re­ac­tion to the Japan­ese el­e­ments in anime is glee­ful, be­cause to me it is an ex­am­ple of a cul­ture hold­ing its own, pre­serv­ing it­self even while em­brac­ing the new world so­ci­ety. I get sat­u­rated with our cul­ture every day, I see it re­flected back at me in other na­tions, but when I look to ani­me, I see a change, and this to me is re­fresh­ing.

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  23. This is a cop-out on my part. Like many ar­gu­ments from re­vealed pref­er­ences, that is a fully gen­eral coun­ter­ar­gu­ment which can be used to jus­tify any choice.↩︎