The Anime Debate
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Behind X and the manga book of the same title is Clamp Studios, made up of four talented women: Nanase Ohkawa, Mokona Apapa, Mikku "Mick" Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi. © Manga Entertainment, Inc.

Francesco Fillipi (Animation columnist and animator): Disney wanted to show the "truth of the movement." Every emotion a character lives must emerge in a frame. So you can see everything the character feels, nothing less but nothing more. Instead, the Japanese wanted to show the "psychological truth" of the characters. It's true their first choices were due to their lack of money, but they managed to build a new language. In this direction a great help came from the Japanese ability to concentrate attention on only a single element, as in the Kabuki theater and Haiku verses. So in animation, the emotions were spread through the environment, so everything contributed to a character's emotions: the music, the colors, the editing, etc.

In the first episode of the TV series Captain Harlock, the little Mayu meets her "uncle" Harlock, knowing the Earth forces are laying a trap to chase the space pirate. Mayu and Harlock are happy to meet but also sad because of the whole situation. Disney would have animated the scene alternating smiles and sad looks on the characters' faces. Instead Rin Taro (the director, also responsible for the recent movie X) put sad music over two smiling faces.

Further, Osamu Dezaki (one of the greatest directors of anime) talked about the animated character of Black Jack, based on Tezuka's manga, in an interview for an Italian magazine: "Black Jack is a difficult person to understand...he has an obscure temperament, but charming at the same time. As director, I didn't feel the need to understand the most mysterious parts of his soul. I decided to leave his mystery integral to him and to follow with the camera tagging after...letting the audience create a personal image of him."

This requires a different role for the viewer, a different sensibility, but for those who grew up with it, there are no problems at all. In anime you can give your feelings to the character, have a dialogue with him or her, not only listen to a monologue. It's more interactive.

Charles Solomon: To dismiss anime as "badly made animation" strikes me as silly. Limited animation has been around for more than 50 years. It can be (and has been) extremely effective when used properly. Do the designs for the film suit the style of the animation? One of the great lessons of the UPA films is that the way a character is animated should relate to its design. Animating Mr. Magoo, Bullwinkle or Tenchi in a full Disney style is as inappropriate as doing Hanna-Barbera style limited animation of Pinocchio. Would full animation add anything to Tenchi or Rocky and Bullwinkle? I doubt it.

Fred Patten: There is an attitude that the only animation worth watching is Disney "illusion of life" quality animation. American examples that disprove this include most of the UPA output, Disney's Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Jay Ward's TV programs, and such recent TV animated hits as Ren and Stimpy, The Simpsons, Aeon Flux, King of the Hill and South Park. A good script, good voice acting and good music can win a devoted audience despite jerky or limited animation. Some recent noteworthy examples of anime that exemplify this are Serial Experiments Lain and Cowboy Bebop.

Ashitaka riding atop a wolf and Princess Mononoke on the back of Moro, her adopted wolf mother. © Miramax Films.

Francesco Fillipi: I saw two new non-Japanese shorts at the I Castelli Animati festival. In For The Birds, a Pixar short, there are a lot of little birds with very expressive faces. Everything moves and the birds are very funny. There was also The Periwig-Maker, a German puppet short about the Black Death. The puppets have almost the same faces for all the film, but they were so human, so deep, so true in their dramatic experience beautiful! I can't say the second short is better than the first or vice versa. They are both perfect in their own language, the first in the Disney style, the second in the anime style.

Animator: I think it's apples and oranges. Different conventions and different tastes are at work. Perhaps Akira and Mononoke are not as interesting or entertaining to general Western audiences, but the same is true of most successful Western animated features in Japan.

As for why some Westerners, who weren't raised on the anime style, prefer it I can't say. I think a big part of it is that they love the stories and the overall style so much that they've come to accept the Japanese animation style. I really think that if some top-notch Western character animators worked on a quality anime film, the results would knock your socks off, and make most current anime films look lame (and most current Western animation, too!). I also don't think anime could be done as inexpensively as it is if they put the emphasis on character animation that the top studios here do. For years there's been flirtations between DreamWorks and Otomo to do a film together. That would be something.

Are some anime titles of value, or are productions such as Akira and Princess Mononoke as misguided as more commonly-maligned titles such as Pokémon? And how about anime which breaks what is commonly regarded as a cardinal rule of animation -- animating a story such as Heidi, which could have been made in live-action?

Cartoon Network's popular Dragonball Z. © Cartoon Network.

Mark Schilling: Japanese animators have made a virtue of necessity by using limited animation to explore topics considered off-limits to Disney and its imitators, who must appeal to the widest possible audience to recoup on their enormous investments. Could Disney have attempted the Twilight Zone-like fantasy of Memories or the psycho-horror of Perfect Blue? I think not. Less bound by the need to sell tickets to every eight-year-old in the country, Japanese animators can be more imaginative, daring and, occasionally, more self-indulgent than their Disney counterparts.

Cedric Littardi: Whereas in the U.S. scarcely no animated feature can be created with less than $50 million, the Japanese need a tenth of these budgets. U.S. mega-productions keep more or less the same style, as imposed by Disney standards, with the unique purpose of having everyone in the target audience come and see it in the theaters. The Japanese animators have a much wider range of animation styles. Akira and Princess Mononoke have less to do with each other than Hercules and Titan A.E., for instance.


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