Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Anime?


The question has been bouncing around again lately, and largely due to a sudden influx of new people in my life who have yet to fully understand why a 37 year old guy like me continues to seek out new and hopefully entertaining wrinkles to the medium. And it is still interesting how often I get comments and remarks about feeling either on the periphery of actually giving it a try, but feeling overwhelmed as to where to start, or were completely unaware that certain shows they loved as kids were even Japanese. And to this day, that second one remains especially so in that even during my childhood, watching Star Blazers and Battle Of The Planets(Gatchaman), it was pretty clear that these were shows that came from a very different culture and spirit. And as such, it seemed to clearly predict the kind of person I would grow up to become. Never fully satisfied by what the majority of kids around me clamored for (stuff which I admit was pretty cool considering the pop culture period I was growing into), the very notion that it always had to be that something else, that alien element, that neglected animal that would satiate my media consumption needs.

How easily so many forget how much Japanese media material was bring brought stateside by way of a number of small companies with an eye toward sharing foreign kids fare with Americans. Would I have still become the same Japanophile had it not been for folks like Sandy Frank? Or how about Carl Macek? Heck, even further than that with the folks at American International Television? Jack And The Beanstalk, as well as KTLA's playing of Yamato were early infections, ready and eager to serve as portent to what would eventually consume a decent portion of my world, as well as world view. So when more nostalgia-bait shows like Voltron(Golion) came about, I also made it something of a point to make sure I was watching dubbed and edited Mazinger-Z around the same time. And even though many my age were ravenous for Transformers, it was Robotech (specifically Macross) that made clear strides toward crystallizing my interest. And by and large, it was because of how much Macek intended to retain as much of the original version's flavor intact. Not that there was much of a way to completely localize the series, but there is so much of a regional feel to the series that its world and characters felt immensely more absorbing to me than most shows airing after school. And it was in these early packaged shows with such reverence for the source material that kept me curious. I wanted more, and sadly since no internet was available, all I could do was either wait, give up, or stalk adults with friends in the military.

It probably also didn't hurt that by age 9, I was already well versed in seeking out names involved in making the things I enjoyed. So by this time, I was already familiar with the Spielbergs, Lucases, and Carpenters of the world. Point is that the origin of a certain work was every bit as important as the work itself, which apparently continues to be the thing most people tend to regard. And with that, seeing names during end credits, as well as looking at all the clear-as-day signage in many of these shows, it was clear that I would eventually have to educate myself more and more in hopes of better appreciating shows such as these. So upon looking at the back ads in the latest Starlog magazine, it seemed that there was something of a culture of interest happening between english speakers, but the reach was still far too distant and expensive for a fifth grader to ever consider becoming an active participant.

But the real draw of this medium for me has always been akin to why I purchased a SEGA instead of a Nintendo, or listened to weird, noisy music as a late teen. Anime at it's rowdiest and most energetic, is when it reaches beyond the confines of budget to present a world bursting at the seams with energy. Vitality, even as cameras pan left with zero cels flipping. And ideas flowing at the cost of sheer logic. Not unlike the distortion-riddled, often electronic rock I was getting into, anime has had its reputation as something of a rebel art disguised as domestic product. Even through many of its most cliche motions, it has the potential to move hearts without sheen, or provoke without sentimentality. And more than this, it's a window into a culture that continues to confound me as well as fascinate. I at times can't get enough of how such an art form can shed light on contemporary feelings. Now one can argue that the days where this was most powerful are long gone as the early generations of the medium came out of the post war sturm and drang, while domesticity and recession may have dulled the medium's edge. But one can also posit that this prolonged sense of performance anxiety can only lead to something of a bursting point. We have recently seen some recent shows that again feature a grand need for creative and symbolic ways to illuminate contemporary problems and concerns. Even when they are clearly poised to be informercials to sell physical media, the possibility for them to transcend their "station" is still alive and well.

Or perhaps these are merely the squawks and bleeps of an indignant little punk. Hard to say. But this is my current story that works.

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