What does anime mean to you? I ask because I finally started watching the Enter the Anime documentary on Netflix. I say started because I didn’t get more than a few minutes in before I turned it off as a precautionary measure. You see, I knew it was going to irritate me.
I’d expected an insight into the industry, perhaps from a historical perspective, but rather it chronicled the attempts of a presenter unfamiliar with anime to find out what it was all about. That in of itself wasn’t the issue, but rather how anime was presented. All the clips shown were ultra-violent, something the narration backed up as being representative of the art form. By about this point I switched off, but the documentary is symptomatic of more pervasive assumptions.
Detractors typically fall into one of two camps, that is seeing anime as either cutesy kid fodder, or overly violent and sexually perverted. Of course, it can be both of those things and that’s fine, but this dichotomy ignores the fact that anime can also be philosophical, satirical, moving, beautiful and relevant. I’d even argue some of the best drama exists in anime, but the suggestion that it’s one or the other is short-sighted at best.
Cute looking anime can be dark and disturbing – hello Madoka! – while gory anime can be intellectually stimulating. Some of the most infamously bloody shows have a lot more going on under the viscera, like Elfen Lied exploring identity and friendship, the socio-political subtext of Parasyte the Maxim, and the demonisation of youth culture in DEVILMAN crybaby. But for an example close to my heart, I’ll turn to From the New World. This is a dark show that doesn’t shy away from bloodshed which, most of the time, services the plot. It’s narratively dense, packed full of ideas and meditations on society and human nature and I’m frequently moved and disturbed when watching it.
That brings me around to the assumption that violence alone equates to maturity in storytelling when a show like Ouron Host High School Club is more mature in its themes than, say, Corpse Party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing shade at shows like Corpse Party or the people that enjoy them. It’s great that anime caters to almost all tastes and that’s exactly my point. By assuming that anime is either sparkles and joy or blood and guts, it diminishes an entire art form, its creators and its fans to an overly simplified sliding scale.
Regardless of how the rest of the documentary played out, it’s handling of anime is indicative of wider assumptions and misunderstandings, not just of the art form itself, but of those that consume and enjoy it. I like cutesy series, I’ve got time for violent shows, and I appreciate the mix of both, but I also love spiritualism, philosophy, emotional drama and more in anime and, if you’re reading this, I’ll wager that you do to. So, what does anime mean to you?
If all of the above was based just on a few minutes’ worth of that documentary, imagine if I’d watched the whole thing! If you’ve seen it yourself, let me know if I should give it a second shot.