If you’ve spent much time reading or listening to anime reviews, then you’ve probably heard it said at least a few times that some show or the other isn’t “true” anime. This is usually coupled with a comparison to another show that the reviewer personally likes as an example of why it isn’t “true” anime.
Just between us, that’s utter horseshit.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to be mentioning a few shows that routinely get dissed and called out as stupid, or not worthy of being considered anime. Some of them you may know, others you may not. To the last, however, they are true anime, because anime is a medium, and anything that falls within that medium is technically anime.
First off, let me make something clear. The terms stupid and bad are frequently used synonymously, as if thought they mean the same thing. They don’t. A show can be stupid, and still be really good. A show can be bad, but still be intelligent. These are two very different things. That said, Stupid And Bad Anime Are Still Anime would be a confusing title for a post, so for now, I’m going to allow them to be applied as if they were equal terms.
I don’t like it, but it’ll make writing and reading this a lot simpler.
So, what is anime anyway? In brief, anime is a term used to describe animation from Japan, though the word itself is most likely French in origin, coming about from the term dessin anime. It’s also possible that the term did originate in Japan with animeshon, or how animation is spelled and pronounced in Japanese. Nobody seems to know for certain which is the actual origin of the word, and it hardly matters for one simple reason.
In Japan, anything animated is anime, even if it comes from another country. G.I. Joe is anime, for example, as is Mickey Mouse and Thundercats. Basically, if it’s animated, be it hand drawn or computer animation, it’s anime. So, yeah, technically Toy Story is anime.
Western countries are the ones who have come to hold the term to mean animation from Japan, with its distinctive look and style. For myself, I tend to go with the way terms are used in the home countries, so to me, anything animated is still anime, because that’s how it’s considered where the kind of anime we’re talking about comes from.
That said, we are talking about anime from Japan here, so let’s focus on that for a minute. The style we are all familiar with more or less originated with Osamu Tezuka in the 1960’s, though there were earlier works that he built his style on. The widespread popularity of Tezuka’s work remains a major influence in anime to this day, but it goes way beyond big eyes and funny emoticons.
The real genius in anime is that it can use fewer pages of animation to create the illusion of movement, which was basically what Tezuka really pioneered. While the big eyes and so on that are common in anime today were also his creations, it was his animation techniques that allowed the anime industry to thrive, requiring fewer cells to be painted in order to create the effect that was desired. This sped up production considerably, and allowed anime to become a common means of storytelling.
So, once again, when we look at what anime technically is, anything that uses Tezuka’s techniques is technically anime, including the American made The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, which used the same techniques and art style common in Japanese made anime.
Yes, I just said Last Airbender and Korra were anime. They are, and I don’t care what anyone says. They used the style and technique, therefore they are anime. It really is just that simple.
While Tezuka’s techniques and style became common in Japan, America and many other countries were more heavily influenced by animation created by studios like Warner Brothers. Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, and later on, Hanna Barbara, created their own distinct styles that caught on in the States and many parts of Europe.
Disney also showed a distinctive style, which perhaps ironically, influenced Tezuka, and was his inspiration for creating the art style known as anime. So, yeah, when you get right down to the brass tacks of the matter, Walt Disney helped create anime, intentionally or not, so technically, anime is a byproduct of his work. So again, we can broaden the definition of what anime really is, if we chose to.
Yes, the purists are having seizures. I know. They’ll pass out soon enough.
Still, let’s just focus on anime from Japan. This is what most folks think of when they talk about anime, so narrowing our definition to just that will work for the purposes of this post. It isn’t entirely accurate, once again, but we’ll let that slide so I’m not here all day sorting out the various intricate details and complex history of animation in general.
That’s make my fingers tired real fast.
Now, when we talk about anime, there’s a few shows that always come up as the best examples of the medium. Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, FullMetal Alchemist, and so on. I’m sure you guys know the titles as well as I do by now. The “true” anime. The shows worthy of being called anime.
Let’s talk about School Days instead.
If you’ve never seen it, and oh, man, do I hope you haven’t, School Days is a traditional romance anime that follows a young male protagonist as he tries to get the girl of his dreams to fall in love with him. He succeeds, promptly cheats on her, and in retaliation she chops of his head and takes it on a cruise.
No, really. That’s what happens.
School Days is a really fucked up show.
It’s also a pretty terrible one. Not to say it’s bad, as it isn’t. The animation, music, voice work, and everything else is all pretty good. It’s the story that’s horrible. It goes from a generic slice of life romance story to full on horror out of freaking nowhere. One girl gets disemboweled by the comically calm female protagonist after she chops off her ex boyfriends head. It’s completely batshit insane. As is the male leads sudden desire to bang every girl he sees, and their willingness to get banged by him. The whole thing feels like a giant PSA for abstinence that went as horribly wrong as those anti-drug rap groups from the 90’s.
Yes, we all still have nightmares about those.
Here’s where we get into the difference I mentioned earlier. School Days is a well made anime, that happens to be insanely stupid. It’s not bad, but it is dumb as as a box of hammers. It’s also still an anime. It’s animated, from Japan, and was made by Studio TNK, the same studio behind UFO Ultramadien Valkyrie, Ikki Tousen, and The Seven Deadly Sins. So it’s as legit as it comes in terms of being an anime.
Just because it’s dumb as your cousin Cooter after he drank that anti-freeze moonshine doesn’t mean it isn’t an anime. You don’t get to rule it out as a legit anime product just because the bad is hilariously bad.
Speaking of Ikki Tousen, that’s another show that gets slapped with the dumb label a lot. Which is pretty fair. Ikki Tousen is pretty damn dumb. It’s also gorgeously animated, with high quality voice work, and more series under it’s belt than sumo wrestlers have chins. In other words, it’s a highly successful anime series, so dumb or not, it’s hardly bad.
Granted, it’s 90% fan service with some fight scenes thrown in, but by no measure is it a poorly made show, so bad it really isn’t. Stupid, yes, but not bad. It’s also 100% an anime.
A soft core porn anime, but still an anime.
Speaking of soft porn, let’s talk about shonen series for a minute.
Did ya like that segue? I thought it was pretty subtle. Yup. Subtle like the wind.
Shonen anime is where you most frequently hear the term bad anime thrown around. Shows like Bleach, Naruto, Fairy Tail, and others are frequently lumped in as bad because they tend to build around themes of friendship and team work. Why this is a bad thing, I’ll never know. Friendship and teamwork have always been good things in my life.
Also, Dragonball is for some reason exempt from this. Why, I have no idea, even though it absolutely is a shonen anime that builds around themes of teamwork and friendship. It’s Dragonball, so it apparently gets a pass because… dragon balls?
The thing is, these are always very successful and popular series, and the animation work is pretty much top quality without fail. High production values, quality voice work, and excellent music are all devoted to these shows, because they are doing what they are suppose to do, be successful.
They also tend to flood the studios behind them with lots and lots of cash, which lets them make those artsy niche shows that the elitists consider truly worthy of the holy designation Anime. *Cue reverent music and softly whispered voices of awe*
Without those “bad” shows, the show they like wouldn’t even get made, because there’s not as much money in them. Certainly not enough to keep a studio alive, animators employed, and directors egos fed a steady diet of interns.
Manglobe is an excellent example of this. They made artsy shows, and went bankrupt.
My point being, those shows are good, because they support the industry. Whether you like them or not is totally irrelevant. They are what keep the industry alive, because lots of people watch them, both in Japan, and around the world. I know people who don’t even know what anime is that know what Naruto is, just to give an example of how widely recognized that property is.
The same goes for everybody’s favorite punching bad, Sword Art Online, the subject of many posts by me. SAO is wildly successful, and keeps A-1 in business by being wildly successful. Which in turn allows them to make little shows like Anohana, which I’ve reviewed before, a series that as far as I know, has never even been picked up for dubbing, and at least half the anime fans I’ve talked with have never heard of. That’s pretty damn niche, and it wouldn’t even have been possible to invest money in it had they not been flush with that sweet SAO cash.
Not to mention the crap tons of money they get from Fairy Tail, another A-1 production that lets them make all kinds of other shows purists love, like Space Brothers, Fractale, Erased, and more.
That matters, because the anime industry as a whole is, first and foremost, a business. If it isn’t making money, then it fails. That’s pretty simple.
Is anime an art form? In the technical sense, yeah. However, it’s a business before it’s an art form. Before it’s anything, it’s a business. If something makes money, it’s a success in their minds. The directors and artists may care about the artistic merit of what they make, but the studio cares about the bottom line, and that’s just how it is.
I mean, c’mon, you really think porno movies like Bible Black get made because the studio thinks of what it’s doing as art? Gimme a break.
Look, it’s okay to have favorite shows, and it’s okay to have shows you don’t like. That’s normal, and part of being human. Any form of entertainment, which anime is, is going to appeal to different people differently. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here, and I know I say this a lot, but enjoyment of any form of entertainment is purely subjective.
I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga. That doesn’t make her music bad, or dumb, or not real music. It isn’t ruining the entire music industry, either. That just means it doesn’t appeal to me personally. That’s all. Nothing more.
The same goes for anime you don’t like. SAO may not be your cup of tea, any more than Fairy Tail, Bleach, Naruto, or Ikki Tousen, but by no means are those projects ruining anime by making it dumb, bad, lame or anything else. They are keeping anime studios in business, and that can only be a good thing if you enjoy anime in general.
In that sense, those projects are more purely anime than anything else you can name, because they are what make the “good” shows even possible for studios to make.
Like it or not, anime is a business, and that bottom line is always going to come first. Artistic shows, much less experimental concepts, like Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, and the like, are not going to keep any studio in business, because they do not have a wide enough appeal. It isn’t relevant that you think they should, or that you don’t like people that don’t see how genius and perfect they are, because at the end of the day, anime isn’t a pure artistic medium.
It’s entertainment, and that’s just a business.
Here’s what you need to remember. There is no anime that will, or even can, ruin anime. There are just people who take anime way too seriously, and out of their overdeveloped passion, forget that it is just television. There’s nothing wrong with having passion for something, but when you loose sight of reality, it become a problem.
Don’t believe me? Tell a Star Trek fan that you think the new movies are better than the old stuff. While most will shrug, there’s the few who absolutely loose their shit all over you. Same goes if you tell a Star Wars fan that you think the prequels are better than the originals. Or that Jar-Jar Binks is your favorite character.
They forget that you have a right to your own opinion. The same goes for anime lovers. They find that one show that really, truly speaks to them in a way nothing else ever has, and forget that it doesn’t do that for everyone. They become like those Mormons that come around to knock on your door, trying to get you to join.
Being passionate about something, especially something that moves you deeply, is natural. It does not make everything else terrible, however, and certainly doesn’t mean anyone who didn’t feel the same doesn’t deserve an opinion of their own, much less a show that did the same for them that wasn’t the same show you had.
Everyone experiences things differently. We’re all inside our own heads, seeing the world from our perspective alone. When it comes to entertainment, what we enjoy is going to be influenced by our lives, experiences, and world view. That’s fine, normal, and the way things should be.
Let’s all try and remember that next time we see a show that makes us roll our eyes out the back of our heads, though. There may be someone out there for whom that show is a life altering experience, no matter how dumb or bad we think it is.
They feel the same way about it you do about the show you love most, and having a bit of respect for that makes us all better people, and a better fandom.