[GUEST POST] Michaele Jordan Asks: Will We Ever Let Anime Grow Up?


Michaele Jordan is the author of the period occult thriller Mirror Maze and her stories have appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, Interstellar Fiction, The Crimson Pact, Volumes 4 and 5 and Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can visit her website at MichaeleJordan.com while waiting for the upcoming steampunk adventure Jocasta And The Indians.

Will We Ever Let Anime Grow Up?

by Michaele Jordan

I recently surfed past an article by Meredith Woerner touting the virtues of anime. Headlines like, “Animated movies that are better than most live-action blockbusters” tend to stop me in my tracks, and this one was no exception. I am always interested if seeing animation claim a larger, more respected share of the film market. But, alas, I was disappointed.

The fault was not Ms. Woerner’s. She was focusing on films that could compete with summer blockbusters. So I shouldn’t have been looking for films that might garner respect. Nor am I saying she listed a lot of trash. She did a reasonable job of balancing Japanese films against American, and for the most part they were all good movies. (Okay, I could quibble that. . . No. Won’t go there.)

They were good movies. But they were kids’ movies. Some used wit (a great deal of wit, in the case of The Incredibles by Brad Bird) to placate grown-up escorts. Miyazaki films, such as Spirited Away, do not need to placate the parents; they are told with enough charm for any market. But of nineteen films, only four could be accused of aiming at an adult audience. Three of those were Japanese, and the fourth, Gerald Potterton’s Heavy Metal, was from 1981. Not only are we not keeping up in the West, we are falling further and further behind.

It’s not that I particularly seek out films full of sex and violence. But my tolerance for sweetness and cute is low, and there is rarely much middle ground. Anime is one of the places I go to look for that middle ground.

It starts with television. Television is what most people watch all the time. It shapes their expectations for what movies they want to see. The Japanese (yes, we’re back to the Japanese; they remain the cutting edge) do not view animation as something for kids. They view it as a cost-effective means of production in the cut-throat television market. Their TV networks feature ‘cartoons’ as routinely as we feature crime dramas. They don’t just offer anime fantasy and science fiction. They also have anime detectives, anime serial killers and anime sit-coms. All aimed at adults.

I first encountered this phenomenon when Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim featured Ryôsuke Nakamura’s Monster (a Shogakukan Production 2004-05). This is an edge-of-your-seat political thriller/psychological crime drama. It is NOT for children. Nor is it SF/F, unless you count the hypnotic charm of the serial killer as a fantasy element. It ran 64 episodes.

Of course, I am a fan, so I prefer SF/F. I’ve just signed on to CrunchyRoll, largely because they were offering seasons two and three of the wonderfully drawn Hell Girl, from Aniplex. I fell in love with the show when I stumbled across season one (2005-06) on Netflix. As you might guess from the title, Hell Girl is fantasy. Very, very dark fantasy.

Ai Enma is a solemn, soft-spoken little girl, as big-eyed and beautiful a child as any in anime. She serves as a sort of gatekeeper to the underworld. If you make a contract with her, she will dispatch the object of your retribution to Hell. In every episode, we see her rowing her little ferry across a dark lake, dotted with little glowing lanterns. Of course, you pay for this service. When you die, you will follow your victim to Hell. Most of her passengers deserve their fate. Some don’t. Very few of the clients deserve theirs.

There is no sex to speak of in this show, and not really much violence either. But it remains utterly inappropriate for children. It is so slow-moving that you probably couldn’t get them to watch it anyway. Nor does the story advance much from episode to episode. But it is compelling; a series of sad, cruel little tales of fear and futility, in which the characters torment each other until one of them breaks the loop in desperation. It’s about karma, and karma, when all is said and done, is the human inability to learn from past failings, the endless recycling of yesterday’s mistakes. I repeat, it’s not for kids.

I cannot honestly say I expect to see anything like this to reach American TV, whether or not it is animated. Technically, it would be easy enough to remake in English with live actors and a Judaeo-Christianized Hell. But no one would watch it. This one is a ‘special dark’. It makes Hannibal look cheery. (And yet, it ran three seasons in Japan.) Still, I would certainly like to see something animated on TV, or in the theatres, that is not for children.

7 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Michaele Jordan Asks: Will We Ever Let Anime Grow Up?”

  1. Have you seen PAPRIKA? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0851578/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1)

    You might like it. It’s INCEPTION before there was INCEPTION, only animated. Trippiest darn film ever. Great music, too. I believe Christopher Nolan publicly acknowledged the influence of PAPRIKA on his story.

    I’m right there with you on wanting more darker, grittier, adult-only anime fare. Might take an act of god to set more in motion, though–at least in our lifetime. :(

    If you can’t get it in film, there’s always the manga of Hideshi Hino!

  2. We were piling up our old DVD’s yesterday for a garage sale and I came across Ninja Scroll (although I haven’t watched it in at least a decade).

    Needless to say, I kept it.

    I don’t know why animated films get no love. Maybe it’s that special effects have gone so far and everyone’s looking for the next blockbuster.

  3. In the United States people went apeshit because of the comic book Saga (one of the best I’ve ever read, btw) because it had a transsexual character.

    Americans seem to be fine with people shooting each other for no reason and blowing each other up but get into dark psychological places and they are pathetic.

  4. I’ve been working my way lately through the eighties and nineties OAV series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s not without its flaws (contrived melodrama for example) but it’s as cerebral, legit space opera as anything that’s been aired on US TV In a while. I think Americans get hung up on thinking of anime as a genre with its own tropes. It’s really a medium and those tropes only carry over to a subset of what’s made in Japan. Generally the stuff that makes it overseas IMHO.

  5. Heather, absolutely! I should have mentioned Paprika (although, again, it’s Japanese, not Ameican. Peter, I don’t know Ninja Scroll–thanks for the tip. I’ll look it up. Splicer, I so agree.

    A friend scolded me for not acknowledging The Simpsons & King of the Hill. Just because they’re cheerful? Hmm… Are they for kids or for grown-ups. Well, they’re sit-coms. So I guess I have to admit they’re for grown-ups.

  6. I don’t know if in America anime will get the respect of adults on a widespread basis. Since the 90s (when I first got into anime) the fanbase has grown, but in many cases the fanbase has grown due to kids getting into anime and the fandom continuing into adulthood (like me) rather than adults seeking out anime on their own. I’m not saying adults don’t, seek out anime on their own, but I haven’t seen as much of that.

    My husband tried to write a thesis in college about video games as a legitimate art for his Japanese degree. Unfortunately for him the only professor who was available to work with him was a professor who specializes in Ancient Japanese court poetry. She really thought the whole idea was completely absurd and he was held back from writing the conclusions he wanted to make (though I’m sure that’s how it is with most thesis writing). That’s a very extreme case.

    There is still a huge stigma I’m afraid. I get called a nerd all the time (which is totally true). Even though comic book movies are banking now, most if not all of them are live action.

    I’m excited to see what guillermo del toro does with Monster. Pacific Rim is getting good reception so I’m happy to see that. Also Oldboy was originally based off a manga (I think), so while I’m not looking forward to the American remake, I am glad it has gained traction too.

    I’ve got to give a few obligatory suggestions:
    Macross Plus (the movie is a squashed together version, see the mini series instead)
    Gall Force Eternal Story
    Galaxy Express 999
    Perfect Blue
    Cowboy Bebop (tv series, the movie was okay)
    Blue Sub no. 6
    Now and There Here and Now (this one is pretty intense)

    1. Erica, I was sorry to hear about your husband’s thesis. Academics can be appalling tyrants.

      I really do think that a lot of it goes back to parents plunking kids down in front of the cartoons. It sets up an unconscious expectation that animation is for kids. And older viewers will never change their minds. Eventually they will die off, but–hey, we don’t really want that, they’re our parents.

      I was embarrassed how many titles you threw out that I didn’t k now–I will have to look up a lot of your list. Thanks! At least I don’t have to look up Cowboy Bebop–it is gold. I am also a big fan of Oldboy (see my Korean Horror, Part 3 post) although I don’t think (and this applies to Pacific Rim, too) that anime gets any of the credit when a live action film is based on a manga. So many people don’t know or care what a movie is based on.

      And yes! Guillermo del Toro is going to do Mo star! Yeay!

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