- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Evolution of Anime
In recent months over on Anime Suki's General Anime forum, there have been a few threads basically questioning and debating over the recent direction of anime and its industry. Most of these threads have been started by critics of that direction; those critics tending to be people who were anime fans during the 80s or 90s or possibly even before those decades.
In those debates, I've often played the role of advocate for the critics position, since that's the more unpopular position, and I think that it's sometimes good to give voice to unconventional, unpopular positions in order to put conventional wisdom to the test. This can lead discussions into greater depths, as people dig deeper and deeper to support their own positions. In doing so, within the context of a debate over anime, people can learn more about anime itself, from both their own research, as well as from the knowledge put forward by the other side of the issue.
From these debates, and from paying closer attention to recent season line-ups for anime, I am noticing a profound shift of sorts, I think.
And the shift isn't necessarily what people think it is, although it is related to that.
The Anime Suki poster Bri provided data indicating that there has been a decline in anime of the fantasy and sci-fi genres (as well as in two other genres that escape me right now). By "decline", I mean a lower percentage of the total number of animes put out each year.
But, I don't think that the issue is so much a decline in any one particular genre.
I believe, good reader, that the issue is that the genres themselves have changed. But while the genres have changed, it has lead to a particular type of anime to thoroughly dominate the industry (i.e. account for, in all likelihood, over 50% of all animes produced since the conclussion of Code Geass R2). This domination of one particular type of anime is vaguely perceived by fan and critic alike, but is often mistaken for "moe", or "ecchi", or "fanservice", or "lolicon", or any number of anime elements or conventions.
What I'm refering to is ultimately bigger than any of that, and you'll see what it is that I'm referring to shortly.
First, though, let's look at the new genres...
Genre 1 - Avant Garde Sophisticaed School
Flagship Animation Company: SHAFT
Key anime examples: Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Durarara!!
Likely Spring 2010 examples: Arakawa under the Bridge
In recent years, this genre has taken off, and has truly blossomed. It is distinct from other school-based animes in that it has a certain level of maturity and literature quality to it. It is very dialogue heavy, and relies on genuinely witty repartee. Animes of this type have a crisp comedic edge to them, but also tend to take themselves somewhat seriously by casting a somewhat darker mood than what many school-based anime have.
They aim to be hip and trendy; they are your College Professor's anime, you could say. They are the animes that you would probably find the easiest to write lengthy College papers on.
This modern anime genre also tends to be accompanied by a very avant garde artstyle and animation flare. SHAFT has mastered this artyle and animation approach unlike any other animation studio. It could even be said that SHAFT has helped to give life to this modern anime genre.
Genre 2 - SuperSpecialSweet Moe School!
Flagship Animation Company: Kyoto Animation
Flagship Source Material Provider: Key
Key anime examples: Clannad, Kanon, Air, K-On!
Likely Spring 2010 examples: Kiss x Sis, Yutori-Chan, K-On! Season 2
When people talk about moe, in reference to entire anime series' (and not just to indvidual characters), it's the animes in this modern anime genre that they are thinking of.
Animes within this genre are there to pull on your heart-strings; they're there to make you feel all warm and cuddly inside, at least about the characters involved. They're there to make you go "oooooo" and "aaaaa" over the eloquent cuteness of it all. When it comes to pure emotional investment, this modern anime genre can touch the hearts of its biggest fans like no other.
Now... none of this means that these animes are necessarily dumb, or anti-intellectual. I want to be clear about that. Clannad: After Story, for example, has a very profound and touching story to it. Its principal characters are very thoughtful people, and its familial themes are not ones to be taken lightly.
But, on the flip-side, animes of this modern genre can also be as carefree and light-hearted as K-On!
What ties K-On! and Clannad: After Story together is that they both have that same moe visual style, and they both seek to arouse strong positive emotions from the viewer through watching cute and playful non-jaded characters try to achieve their hopes and dreams.
This anime genre fuses innocence with a gentle intelligence; represented best, perhaps, by the Clannad: After Story character of Kotomi.
Genre 3 - Lustful Lesbian Love School!
Key anime examples: Kampfer, Ikki Tousen
Likely Spring 2010 examples: B Gotta H Kei, Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor
This anime genre is basically the modern version of the ecchi genre. You can even think of this title as just "ecchi" if you wish. However, it's a bit more precise than ecchi in that it is always based within a school setting.
Genre 4 - Action School
Flagship Source Material Provider: Ryukishi07
Key anime examples: Higurashi no naku koro ni, Okami Kakushi, Mai HiME
Likely Spring 2010 examples: Angel Beats, Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou
Animes in this genre fuse loads of action with a predominant school or academic setting. The action can come both in a gorey type, but also in the more conventional combat style of the anime Mai HiME. The works of Ryukishi07 has really taken this modern anime genre by storm in recent years.
Genre 5 - School Sports!
Key anime examples: Prince of Tennis, Cross Game, Ookiku Furikabatte, Major
Likely Spring 2010 examples: Ookiku Furikabatte Season 2, Major Season 6
This genre is pretty self-explanatory. In fairness to Cross Game, it's about much more than just sports... but baseball certainly is a key component of the anime.
Along with these 5 modern anime genres, there is a sixth... Historical Pieces. This is a genre that seems to be rising in popularity as well.
However, for the purposes of this blog entry, I'm mostly concerned with these five.
Why, you ask?
Because they all have something in common.
If you can't figure out what it is, well... you probably should go back to school then. ;) :D
0utf0xZer0, a good friend of mine from Anime Suki, once took note of how little the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya appeared to impact on anime, at least as far as influencing future anime titles was concerned.
Au contraire, mon ami. ;)
What that anime did is become the catalyst of a vast number of new modern anime genres, all rooted to varying degrees in Haruhi's anime.
I'm sure she would be quite proud of this accomplishment...
You see, the way a new big hit within an entertainment genre influences the future of that genre is not always with carbon copies of that big hit itself. Rather, what often happens is that people are inspired by one or another particular part of that new big hit.
Haruhi's melancholic soliloquies and Koizumi's philosophical treatises inspire Avant Garde Sophisticated School
The moe character designs and art style inspire SuperSpecialSweet Moe School
Haruhi's molestation of Mikuru inspires Lustful Lesbian Love School
Yuki Nagato vs. Ryoko Asakura inspires Action School
And the Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya inspires Sports School
The five fingers of the hand of Haruhi are a creative force leading to these five new anime genres. ;)
And, as a big fan of Haruhi's anime, I do like a lot of the animes within them.
But... and you knew a but was coming, I'm sure ;) ... the result is that more and more anime are, I think, school-based.
Even animes that aren't school-based are increasingly borrowing from the school-based anime character types popularized in the Haruhi anime.
Case in point being the Sacred Boobsmi... er, the Sacred Blacksmith. ;)
This is why you don't see many of the traditional genres played straight any more in anime. The atmosphere of the school has spread out, and is touching many an anime now. Of course, a huge number of modern animes are school-based as it is.
Now, I want to be clear here on two points...
1. School-based animes can be great. As I've commented before, it's incredible how anime can make something as mundane (and usually hated) as school seem comedic, dynamic, thought-provoking, exciting, fun, and just an overall blast of adrenaline. A totally cool real rush, if you will.
However, there's only so many ways you can play out a Student Council. There's only so many ways you can play out school-based activities. School-based animes bring a nice structure with them, but because of that, they also bring limitations too. There's only so many different sorts of characters that you can have as students in a school. They generally can't be defined or fleshed out through a full-time profession or career, for example.
2. School-based animes aren't just animes that happen to have schools in them. For an anime to be school-based it needs to have a solid majority of its acitivity center around the school, and/or a group based on people who go to the same school together.
One of the limitations of a school-based anime is that it doesn't naturally lend itself to something that I've come to miss... and which I think anime has come to miss.
And that is... epic stories. Epic in the traditional pre-internet sense of the term. Epic as in stories where the fate of an entire world, for example, hangs in the balance. Basically, an epic story has a major plotline, and major reprocussions within its own fictional universe.
And... as hard as I find it to believe given what the 2nd half of its 2nd season was like... I'm really missing Code Geass now.
Code Geass and Gurren Lagann.
Because they had epic stories.
Looking at the Spring 2010 anime selection, I don't see a Code Geass or a Gurren Lagann there. The closest to it, as far as being epic is concerned, is probably Angel Beats. But that, of course, borrows much more from the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya than it does from anything else.
This, I think, may be at the crux of many of the criticisms made of modern anime.
Just a simple lack of epic stories; stories that go beyond the limitations of the school.
Nothing wrong with school-based animes, and these modern anime genres... but they should not completely supplant the older genres of fantasy and sci-fi.
Overall, modern anime is still doing pretty good in most regards, I'll admit.
But we could badly use another Rebellion against Britannia, or another fight against the Anti-Spirals, just about now.
As always, any and all comments are welcomed. My apologies to anybody I may have inadvertently offended with this blog entry.