The Anime Debate
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Gilles Poitras: In the U.S. animation is seen as young children's entertainment. In Japan until recently anime was largely seen as children's entertainment, but remember in Japan you are not an adult until you are 20. A show like Blue Submarine No.6 (recently screened on Cartoon Network) is assumed by Americans to be for people over 18, as the story has the complexities and nuances of presentation that would fit that age group in the U.S. But the director had in mind an audience of 12-15 year olds.

Anime for children is far more complex in plot, character development and subtlety than U.S. animation, even much of U.S. cinema. My interpretation of this is that there is a much greater respect for the ability of children to understand stories in Japan than there is in the U.S.; in fact a greater respect for what adults can understand, given the quality of U.S. TV and movie fare.

Patlabor directed by Mamoru Oshii. © Manga Entertainment, Inc.

Giannalberto Bendazzi: Anime is normally misunderstood overseas because Japanese tradition is today the only big, winning animation cultural tradition that doesn't share Western values and viewpoints. These films don't have internationally recognized stars, except for the Pokémon.

Gilles Poitras: Another factor is the large manga industry in Japan which provides producers with a body of literature to draw on. Then there is the competition between studios in Japan. What do we have in America? Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. dominate the market so people usually judge between what they produce with few other options. In Japan the industry has so many companies that there is a constant pressure to find new niche markets and to try new techniques. This competition allows small companies to get work, even subcontracting for other companies, and to develop reputations. Some examples of this are Gainax, Gonzo and Studio Rex, all of which gained reputations for quality work in a commercial culture used to a variety of companies. I don't think they could have gained the same attention in the U.S.

Charles Solomon: Hayao Miyazaki is clearly one of the most interesting and talented directors working in animation (and in film) today. John Lasseter, Nick Park and Frédéric Back are about his only peers. Mamoru Oshii is so skillful a director he can make a story as silly as the first Patlabor movie seem compelling. Don Bluth tried to capture the excitement of Oshii's Ghost in the Shell or Hiroyuki Okiura's Jin-Roh (Wolf Brigade) in Titan A.E., but failed.

The Tenchi series combines sci-fi fantasy adventures with slapstick romantic comedy in a way that is unpretentious and silly, yet warm. Outside of The Simpsons, few American TV series -- animated or live-action -- can match the clever writing in "Murder Machine," episode 9 of Trigun. Cowboy Bebop evokes the film noir genre more effectively than many live-action detective movies. Takashi Nakamura's Catnapped seems to overflow with imaginative visuals.

Director Hayao Miyazaki personally corrected or redrew more than 80,000 of Princess Mononoke's 144,000 animation cels. © Miramax Films.

Fred Patten: Akira seems to have attempted too much, mixing an intellectually confusing "scientific secret" with an apocalyptic action-adventure story, but it's spectacular to look at and genuinely suspenseful. Princess Mononoke was also possibly too intellectual, leaving audiences confused by the lack of clear heroes or villains, and leaving American viewers confused as to how much of the film reflected actual Japanese history. Being overly intellectual is a flaw almost unknown in American animation.

Many of Miyazaki's other films, such as Kiki's Delivery Service and Laputa: The Castle in the Sky, should be more accessible to general audiences. Catnapped! is a delightful fantasy for young children which will not bore adults. Jin-Roh could certainly have been a live-action film, but it is a taut and suspenseful political thriller. Outlaw Star is a TV series in the Star Wars vein that successfully captures the action-filled pacing, the interstellar grandeur, the exotic aliens and the bantering dialogue of Lucas' hit, despite its limited TV budget.

Giannalberto Bendazzi: Among anime I find many examples of good cinema, tolerated today in the way intellectuals just tolerated Casablanca in the '40s. If I were to mention one title only it would be Ranma 1/2. Of the feature films, I very much like Takahata's works, especially Grave of the Fireflies. But the really original works are the short films of Osamu Tezuka (Jumping), Yoji Kuri, Renzo Kinoshita, Taku Furukawa, Harugutsu Fukushima, Sadao Tsukioka, Keiichi Tanami, Shinichi Suzuki, Nobuhiro Aihara, Keita Kuroska, Dino Sato, Kihachiro Kawamoto and Tadanari Okamoto. Unfortunately there is no distribution for these latter films, and we see them only in the international festivals.

Cedric Littardi: Who is to say an anime is "misguided?" Pokémon sells more than anything else. Akira has united a fan-base worldwide and -- nearly 15 years after its release -- is still considered a classic. Princess Mononoke is the most successful Japanese film ever. If misguided is another word for "un-Disney," then these anime are. But you will never convince the people that enjoy them and they are the best suited to judge. Success is often the best guide to quality!

Fred Patten: As for the Japanese animating stories which could be told in live-action, this is a case of what the legal profession calls tu quoque. How different is DreamWorks' animated The Prince of Egypt from de Mille's live-action Ten Commandments? Hanna-Barbera animated Heidi. The Japanese are notorious for animating popular literary classics with funny-animal casts (The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 Days; these are actually usually commissioned by TV buyers in Italy and Spain), but the last decade has seen American funny-animal versions of David Copperfield and Tom Sawyer. This seems like picking some of the lesser Japanese products to compare with the best of Disney.

Gilles Poitras: Many anime set in a realistic setting would be much more expensive to do as live cinema. Sets, crews, equipment, location shoots, actors who vaguely resemble the characters all add up to a much higher total than the cost of an anime. After all a small studio space rented in an office building is enough for the animators, rented sound studios are enough for the voice and sound effects work and the actors do not have to look like their characters.


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