In order to try to understand anime better I read an article called, “The Problem of Existence in Japanese Animation” by Susan Napier. The main goal of this article was to address the difference of anime in Japanese culture with that of Western culture. I found this to be a very important article to read, because it addresses the population that watches anime in both cultures. In Japan people of all ages from childhood through middle age enjoy animation. This is because anime is from Manga, which are like graphic novels that vary greatly in plot lines, yet they just happen to be animated. Some plots are very light hearted (a fish falling in love with a human) others are proper (etiquette lessons) while others are deep in meaning (the corruption of Japanese culture). In America usually only children watch anime since it is something that isn’t often taken seriously, this author even says that, “Americans seem uncomfortable with the notion of taking animation seriously as an art form”(72). A reason that more and more children might be showing interest in anime is because of computers and video games. Children are growing up more focused on the world on a screen, as compared to twenty years ago when children grew up focused on physical activity. This virtual world is the perfect counter part to anime. Both allow children to think outside the box. A key feature in anime: it doesn’t always follow a logical process and things that are suppose to happen based on what we are taught don’t. Audiences are often surprised about what happens at each stage of the movie. A psychologist friend of this author mentions that anime is more like dreams and the unconscious then reality. This appeals to children especially at a young age because they haven’t quite learned the world to be a sequential place yet.
After mentioning the different perceptions of animation in Japan and the Western world Napier goes on to talk about three different movies that seem simple but are really complex. One of which is by Miyazaki and has previously been discussed in this blog, Spirited Away, which is the highest grossing film in Japanese history. This story is a coming of age story that shows the vanishing of Japan’s own culture and the influence of others. In knowing that there is a sort of hidden meaning, the idea of the loss of unique culture, I now understand while adults might like the story more. Napier talks about two more movies, Ghost In the Shell and Serial Experiments Lain. The first has complex three-dimensional characters and the second is a cyber punk world, which challenges the current reality. By showing that these movies do have a serious side parents will be able to enjoy these once thought to be childish movies with their children and realize that they too are able to get something out of them.
The original article can be viewed here:
Susan Napier is a professor of Japanese language and literature at Tufts University. She became interested in Anime after eating at Chinese restaurant with her family, which was then followed by many Japanese art history lessons from her Harvard Art Historian mother. She too is Harvard educated with a degree in Japanese Literature