Anime might be popular in nerd culture, but that doesn’t mean people always understand what anime is all about. In fact, people often get anime all wrong.
Anime sometimes has a stigma for people who don’t watch it. Or, people make misconceptions about what anime can be, as well as assumptions about the type of people who like anime.
Although it’s a couple of years old, a very informative lecture from an event called AnimeFest has started making the rounds again today, and I thought it was worth sharing — especially since, criminally, only a few thousand people have actually watched it as of this writing. The lecture, which is led by anime expert Jonathan Clements, is a must-watch even for anime veterans — there is a ton of anime history contained within, and Clements breaks down many things that people don’t understand about anime:
The video, however, is almost an hour long. If you don’t have time for that, here’s some of what Clements argues in the lecture:
- There isn’t necessarily a unified opinion on what anime is.
- Anime is not always high-quality. Anime shows often take a lot of shortcuts, so they can fill the 30 min episode format while saving money. This is why things like transformation sequences, and long opening songs exist! It’s particularly bad with early anime, which is considered kind of terrible. For anime fans, this one is a “no-duh” point, but consider that, for many people, their only knowledge of anime comes from things like Miyazaki films — which is not representative of all anime. (As a side-point, it’s also fascinating to hear how anime pioneers tried to make anime work in the early days, and the tensions/problems that came with that. Miyazaki had some major beefs with cheap anime makers!)
- The western world has in fact influenced/changed anime — they can put stipulations on the format (they having episodes be self-contained, rather than continue a storyline), and demands on how certain races can be depicted in the shows. One early anime show, Kimba The White Lion, for example, had Americans pushing to get black people off the show — which, by the way, takes place in Africa. They settled on letting the show depict Africans, but “only if they were good.” Later, Disney purchasing Miyazaki films also influenced how some anime was depicted. Princess Mononoke, for example, was sped up.
- Anime did not always sell itself on its Japanese identity, because that makes it less marketable. Early anime was sold to audiences outside of Japan, but only if anything overtly tying the anime to Japan could be scrubbed out. So: references were changed, names were changed, locations were changed. Even if it meant the anime had to pretend ridiculous things, like having what is obviously Tokyo referred to as Paris. And remember “doughnuts” in Pokemon? It wasn’t until Akira that anime could start selling its Japanese identity to the rest of the world.
- Violence and sex weren’t always a subject anime felt comfortable depicting. That changed with the advent of video, which could bring programs to specific audiences that wanted the content, without having to worry about conforming the content to television standards. Hilariously, some early erotic anime was imported by other countries accidentally, before the world really know what hentai was…and it sold out quickly.
- Once erotic anime, like hentai, started floating around, it changed the public perception of anime fans. According to some people, anime is just a thing for perverts. Essentially, people started using anime as a way to be racist to Japanese people.
- People who purchase hentai are not always anime fans. In fact, they’re often not! Anime fans are a small niche compared to the wider number of people who sometimes buy hentai. But, anime fans are the ones that will take all the blame for the misconception.
- People blew up the Pokemon incident that made some kids feel ill — the number of people this affected is probably lower than what the media made it out to be.
- There’s this perception that just because something is Japanese, it has the special power to manipulate or corrupt children, or that Japanese trends are ploys to undermine western nationality. Again, this might be racism at work.
- Not every anime show or film is hugely popular — many are very niche. This also means that not all anime is the same: there are a a huge variety of anime shows, though only a few types get widespread attention. The result is that some anime shows sell for an incredible markup in Japan, because companies know that only a very limited audience is going to buy it.
These points are expanded upon in the actual video, so you should watch it if you have the time!
This article was originally published 13/2/15.