The Anime Debate
(continued from page 4)

Charles Solomon: There are anime shows and features that could be done in live-action, especially some of the martial arts sagas. They remind me of the Saturday morning programs from the '70s and '80s that used animated versions of live characters (Partridge Family, Karate Kid, Harlem Globetrotters) because it was cheaper. There are stories that may initially seem suited to live-action but work in animation, depending on the style and storytelling. Grave of the Fireflies is essentially a live-action story, but doing it in animation heightens the emotions and distances the audience. The story would be too heart-rending if it were done well in live-action. (If it were done badly, it would feel manipulative and hokey.) Director Isao Takahata balances the intensity and distance to give the story its maximum emotional impact. If the filmmakers have the proper vision, animation can be used to tell almost any story.

More scenes from Cowboy Bebop. © Bandai Entertainment.

Cedric Littardi: This is the greatest challenge an animator can face -- to make his artistic world better and more expressive than the real one. Considering the spectacular success of Takahata, there is hardly anyone that could challenge his achievements in this domain. And this will become a critical skill in a world where CGI animation can be made to look more and more real, mixed with real-world images.

Giannalberto Bendazzi: About 30 years ago, the American critic Dwight McDonald proposed a hierarchy that is still valid, and fits Japanese animation production. We have there a mass-culture output (TV anime), a mid-culture output (theatrical feature films such as Miyazaki's or Takahata's), and a high-culture output (the independent works of Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Osamu Tezuka and many others). You can get quality out of them all, but more likely out of the high-culture output, just because there are no big money investments there and therefore no constraints by the executives, the marketers, the distributors and so on.

Finally, if you could nominate one other national animation industry which deserves far more attention, which one would it be?

Mark Schilling: Canadian animators have been doing excellent, innovative work for years. Not many Canadian animation otaku out there, at least that I'm aware of. But then again, how many American multiplex goers are aware that many, if not most, of the best comedians on their screens are from The Great White North?

Charles Solomon: The defunct government-sponsored studios in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the USSR produced an extraordinary body of work. I've heard the Shanghai Studio no longer exists, which I greatly regret as they created some remarkable films that adapted traditional Chinese art styles to animation. If I had to pick one other country's animation as worthy of wider attention, it would probably be Canada, as the National Film Board artists and Frédéric Back have made so many brilliant films.

Francesco Fillipi: The Canadian National Film Board is great. I like also Aardman animation.

Cedric Littardi: For years, studios have used Korea to make most of their animation, creating a more and more skilled workforce there. Today Koreans are struggling to bring new projects to fruition and though most copy the anime style, an underlying creativity can be felt in many of these.

Ghost In The Shell, based on the manga (comic) of popular artist Masamune Shirow, combines advanced computer graphics with traditional cel animation. © Manga Entertainment, Inc.

Fred Patten: If you mean more attention by serious animation aficionados, then the late Soviet and Socialist Hungarian state-subsidized animation industries and China. There were some stunningly imaginative Soviet short films and features; not just Russian, but from other Soviet republics like Latvia. Hungary had a wide range of animation from short art films to theatrical family features, mostly through the Pannonia studio. But if you mean more attention by the public, then none. Most foreign animation will not play in America except to the art-house circuit. Chinese animation is usually beautiful but too slow-paced for general audiences. It is probably significant that the one Chinese animated feature that comes closest to American tastes, A Chinese Ghost Story, has been picked up for American video.

Giannalberto Bendazzi: An animation industry as such only exists in the USA, Japan, Korea and France. In the rest of the world we have animators, animation companies, but not an animation industry. In my opinion, the most original and innovative films of the '90s have come from Britain and Russia; one step lower I would put the USA, Canada and Poland.

Maureen Furniss: There is a whole world of animation out there that deserves to be discussed. However much of it is even further from the Disney-style "norm" of American feature animation and thus has even less likelihood of being widely screened and appreciated. It's almost impossible to say one country, though Canada, England, Russia, France, Germany, Estonia, Czechoslovakia and Italy all come to mind.

Our grateful thanks to all the contributors to this article.

Andrew Osmond is a freelance writer specializing in fantasy media and animation.


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