Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ani-what-now? Anime & You!

Ani-What-now? Anime & You! 
PART 1 - An Introduction

[Disclaimer ~ Anime is a huge topic. HUGE! It is about as 'deep' as trying to explain the diversity in literature or novels. As such, this blog covered very, very broad strokes of content. I'd love to go more into some weirder shows like Hellsing, Berserk, Kenshin, or others, but for now this introduction is possibly the best entry point into the anime waters. Deeper subjects to follow? We'll see! ]

Pink Hair? Ninja? Must be anime ...
One of my favorite things in the world is "anime", Japanese animated programming that has subject content that ranges from being OK for young adult audiences all the way to R-Rated content. Much like our own American TV system, Japanese anime can cover topics from the adorable to the violent, it just depends on what you like and what you consider "worth watching". While the legal rights system which governs showing copyrighted TV content here at the University of Texas at Tyler has prevented out long-standing Anime Club from being able to show these titles, it does not keep this topic from being particularly popular and beloved by many UT Tyler students.

   While I think it might be worth covering Japanese anime in more depth across different blog posts, I think an "Introduction to Anime" post might be fun! I'll cover the genres anime can (broadly) cover, the opening animations/songs, and the difference between anime for TV, OVA ( Japan's answer to Direct-to-DVD shows ), and movies that appear in cinema.

   When somebody asks you, "What shows do you watch?" you normally have some kind of answer, right? "OH, I love The Walking Dead" or "I watch Adventure Time and sometimes Breaking Bad," etc... Japanese anime fans can provide the same kind of answers - "I like the Giant Robots shows," or "I really love the sillier High School Drama shows," etc...

   While obviously anime ( like our own TV shows and movies ) cover many, many topics, these certainly top the "highest ranking" genre charts ...

   In the sections below I will be linking to the "openings" of these different anime shows. An "opening" is similar to our credits that play after a show, however with anime this is often played at the start of the show so it can establish: characters, tone, showcase a particular singer/hit song, or just to show off with spiffy animation. 

   All the shows I am mentioning below are TV shows, implying obviously that they appeared on Japanese TV in the evening or morning. Other popular anime titles, especially in America, are the films by Hayao Miyazaki which have been released by Disney here in the US. His films include Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arrietty, My Neighboor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo. All those films appeared in cinemas and were then released on DVD. The last genre of anime is rarer these days, but once was a VERY popular medium - the OVA. It stands for Original Video Animation and it was often used to allow for higher-level animation that might only have 4 episodes and thus was too short to run on TV, etc... 

   1. Giant Robots! 

   One of the longest-running and most beloved genres of anime is that of the Giant Robot. This genre has existed for longer than many of its viewers have been alive, with the Gundam series in particularly having run since the 70's. This genre can cover topics as serious as "what does it mean to fight in battle and die alone" or as silly as "how can I make my giant robot BIGGER to fight ALIENS!"

   One example of "serious" Giant Robots is 08th MST, a series which occurs in the Gundam story universe and focuses on a Vietnam-styled war campaign on Earth with the famous Gundam machines: 

   One example of the more "silly" Giant Robot genre is Gurren Lagaan, a *very* stylized series about humans who use giant robots who overcome the tyranny of bestial mutants who long ago forced humanity to live beneath the surface of the world. 

   Giant Robot shows almost always deal with very young protagonists since another aspect of the genre is merchandising - what better way to sell certain kinds of toys than by putting young kids in cool looking machines! Still, while America has done this (repeatedly), Japanese anime does largely attempt to provide moral and spiritual messages into their shows, even the very silly ones. It can be argued that Gurren Lagaan has one of the best messages against depression and despair ever put into a TV series ( well, to its fans anyway )

   2. Supernatural/Fantasy

   Much how recently shows like Game of Thrones, Dexter, Walking Dead, and True Blood have exploded in popularity, these genres have had a large following in Japan ever since the anime boom began. Again, like the Giant Robot genre, many, many of these shows can be either completely ridiculous or utterly serious.

   The Slayers is one of the more infamous of "older" anime which was a staple of the fantasy anime genre. It focuses on a red-haired, ill-tempered and money driven sorceress named Lina Inverse who ( with her friends ) has many adventures across the world and saves it countless times. Linda has remained one of the more popular female anime characters, if only because she is so particularly destructive as well as good-hearted. 

   Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a show that actually is a re-make of the story in a more "complete" format that is closer to the comics that the story originated from. The "Brotherhood" series retains the same plot as its original - two brothers dabble with the vast power of alchemical science to revive their dead mother. One brother, Edward Elric, looses his left arm and right leg - his younger brother, Alphonse Elric, looses his whole body and has his soul bound to a suit of armor. The Elric brothers proceed to travel the world while working for their state government as licensed military-scientists in the hopes of finding a way to undo their mangled bodies. 

   3. High School Drama

   If any genre perhaps encapsulates the "themes" that anime can use to attract younger audiences, it is the High School Drama genre. These shows obviously deal with, well, High School! The shows focus on all ages and genders, all subjects and topics - supernatural, serious, gender/trans-gender-issues, spirituality, comedy, drama, etc... The dominating theme of these shows is dealing with being in a school, thus the "rest" of the show runs the gauntlet from 110% ridiculous to utterly insane. 

   One of the better shows that covers the whole range of High School in Japan in Azumanga Dioh, a show that focuses on a group of friends who enter school as freshmen, however it also focuses on their teachers, vacations, and school events. The show is riddled with uniquely Japanese puns, but that does not detract the show from being enjoyable in native Japanese or English.

   Another great series ( which is one of my favorite shows ) is Fruits Basket, a series focusing on the life of Tohru Honda. Thoru, a young girl who lost her mother in a car accident, comes to be taken in by a mysterious family called the Sohmas. What Tohru does not know ( but obviously finds out ) is that they are cursed by the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Tohru and her new adopted family get to know each other while Tohru struggles with High School, life drama, and other issues ...



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