What Are You Writing About?
Every season (quarter) a new slate of anime airs in Japan, sometimes upwards of twenty shows. I have gotten into the habit of going through most of it (with my brave viewing companions) to see what seems good, and I thought I’d write a bit about it, as well as any other anime-related topics that occur to me.
Anime blogs are pretty common, but they’re mostly aimed at people already immersed in anime culture. For SF Signal, my goal is to write something that the average SFF fan can understand without already having to be a serious anime viewer. To that end, I’m keeping this little glossary, which hopefully will provide some useful tidbits.
Where Can I Get This Stuff?
Previously, it was pretty difficult to get access to currently-airing anime if you were unwilling to venture into the gray area of fansubs. Fortunately for US fans, that’s changing a bit. The best resource is probably Crunchyroll which gets close-to-simultaneous releases of most of the genre-interest stuff with English subtitles, albeit with occasionally spotty translation quality. If something I mention piques your interest, that’s the first place to look, although some shows require a subscription.
This is a list of anime or anime-fandom terms, concepts, or tropes. I will update it we move forward, and link from the blog posts as appropriate.
- Cute Girls Talking About Nothing – This is, believe it or not, an entire genre. It’s sort of like a sit-com, except there’s usually no situation in particular, they’re just hanging out at school. When done well, surprisingly funny in spite of the handicap of having no plot or story whatsoever! They rely on odd characters, running gags, and references and language jokes that can sometimes be hard for non-native speakers to parse. Often based on “4-koma”, or four-panel comic strips like those found in US newspapers.
- Everyone Is In High School – For a variety of cultural and demographic reasons, anime is obsessed with high school. A large majority of main characters are middle or high school students, and in addition to whole genres that revolve around school (high school romance, high school sports, etc) you can expect high schools to pop up in places they really shouldn’t. Fantasy kingdoms will have Hero Academies that look exactly like high schools, space navies will have training programs that function exactly like high school, and so on. This is relevant mostly because I’ve gotten so tired of it that shows not set in high school are an automatic plus for me.
- Fanservice – The iconic Neon Genesis Evangelion coined the term “fanservice” in its preview segment to mean gratuitously sexy shots of the female characters, ostensibly included as a “service” for the fans. Since then, it’s been adopted by the fan community, both in its original meaning and in the slightly broader sense of “something that’s not crucial to the show but that we know the fans want”.
- Fighting Show – A standard anime template. You need a hero, some secondary characters, and a set of powers (magical, technological, psychic, martial arts, whatever) for them to use. The hero confronts a new opponent every episode and defeats him, until he gets to the last boss.
- Gainax – An anime studio, famous for creating Neon Genesis Evangelion (among the most popular shows of all time) and several other watershed series. Their work tends to be (but is not always) very strange or experimental, and often includes lots of fanservice.
- Harem Show – A sub-genre in which a male protagonist hangs around with a bunch of girls, all of whom are in love with him. (Often for extremely contrived or silly reasons.) Typically he doesn’t pursue an actual romantic relationship with them, at least until the very end of the show, since that would break the premise.
These shows come in a wide variety of flavors, from the relatively innocent to the overtly sexual. They are sometimes based on “dating simulation” games, where the player makes dialogue choices to pursue one of a variety of love interests. (Making that kind of branching-choice game into a linear anime is obviously somewhat difficult, and can lead to frustratingly inconsistent plots.)
- Hikkikomori – Literally something like “shut-in”. People (usually young people) who shut themselves in their rooms and refuse to have any contact with the outside world. This is a real phenomenon which, in the grand anime tradition of making fun of mental illness, is typically played for laughs. Anime hikkikomori are usually secretly hoping to make friends and be dragged outside, even if they don’t admit it. They’re also often depicted as expert computer hackers, master online gamers, and so on.
- Light Novel – A category of book in Japan without a clear US analogue. Most similar to US YA novels, but much shorter. (The standard Japanese book format is smaller than a US paperback, so large US novels like A Song of Ice and Fire are routinely broken up into a half-dozen volumes.) Light novels usually come in long series, similar to manga/graphic novels. They also usually include at least some illustrations. In recent years, they provided a great deal of source material for anime adaptations.
- Loli – From “Lolita”. A loli is a female character that looks like an adolescent girl, whether they actually are one or not. Loli characters are often aliens, vampires, demons, robots, etc, so that they are “really” older than they appear. Whether this constitutes an acceptable fantasy is a topic of serious contention, but the characters remain pretty common.
- Long Title Trend – A relatively recent development in anime based on light novels is to have sentence-length titles, usually complete with an officially sanctioned abbreviation. Popularized by the series Ore No Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (“My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute”) and taken up by quite a few others since then.
- Moe – Moe (pronounced moh-ei) is notoriously hard to define, and torrents of e-ink have been spilled trying to nail it down. For our purposes, a simplified concept will be sufficient. Moe describes a particular type of female character (more precisely, “moe” is the feeling one has towards that type of character) who is “cute” in a way that evokes a feeling of protectiveness, rather than an explicit romantic interest. Moe characters are usually naïve, vulnerable or fragile, but often proud and unable to admit to needing help. (It has been suggested that the moe archetype is related to the US concept of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.)
The creation of specifically-designed moe characters (and “moe shows” that heavily feature such characters) is a phenomenon of the last decade or so in anime. As the genre has evolved, a set of clearly defined moe archetypes became popular, each tailored to appeal to fans of a particular trait. This gives us the various stock characters: the glasses-girl, the clumsy girl, the quiet, emotionless girl, the hyperactive extrovert girl, and so on, along with more specific personality or physical types like loli or tsundere.
Like any archetypes, with skillful writing these can be used to craft interesting characters, but a common complaint about “generic” moe shows is that they use the list of archetypes as a set of check-boxes, including one of each for maximum audience appeal. Which shows have this problem is of course a topic of intense debate among fans.
- Otaku – In a general sense, something like “nerd”, implying a strong interest in some particular, often obscure topic. Thus you can be a “train otaku” or a “military otaku”. In an anime/manga context, “otaku” can generally be taken to mean a diehard anime fan. Most of the anime I watch is aimed at the otaku market. (As opposed to more general-interest stuff — sports shows, soap operas, and so on.)
Note that while the term “otaku” is considered relatively harmless among US anime fans, it’s much more pejorative in Japanese.
- OVA – Original Video Animation, sometimes also OAV, Original Animated Video. A straight-to-video/DVD release. Unlike in the US, where this means a bargain-bin movie, for anime this is a prestige format, halfway between a TV show and a movie. (Also free of ratings or censors, and so can contain nudity, ultraviolence, etc.) The golden age of OVAs was in the 80s, when shows were released two episodes per tape/disc for absurd prices. These days, OVAs are usually follow-ups to successful series, sold directly to fans on DVD. Another modern variant is ONA, or Original Net Animation, an episode released online.
- Plonk – n. The sound of a show landing in the “do not watch pile”, v. to plonk The act of emphatically not watching something.
- Salaryman – Someone who works a corporate desk job, usually a lifer. Implies boring, button-down, conventional.
- Sports Show – A show that falls into a standard template that originated with soccer shows, baseball shows, etc. It’s not too dissimilar from the standard Kid’s Sports Movie template we have in the US, with the rag-tag team of underdogs, the elite rich-kids team to battle them, and so on. Anime, though, has decided that you can make a sports show about anything, whether or not it is actually a sport — just plug any activity into the template and away you go. (Stand-outs so far: Go, Mahjong, cooking, bread-baking, tank combat, airsoft, Gundam model assembly, and so on.)
- Shoujo – An anime or manga aimed primarily at school-age girls.
- Shounen – An anime or manga aimed primarily at school-age boys. Many of the manga magazines, such as Shounen Jump, have their target audience right in the title. The classic shounen shows are long-running fighting or sports shows, like Dragonball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and so on.
- Tsundere – One of the moe archetypes. A tsundere character is a female character who likes or is attracted to the protagonist, but can’t or won’t admit it. As a result, she generally treats him badly, makes fun of him, etc, but ultimately reveals the depths of her feeling for him. (“Tsun tsun” is the sound of disdaining someone, “dere dere” is the sound of liking them. Japanese sound effects are weird.)