I am not an anime expert; but, I do watch a lot of anime. For those of you who have not caught on to anime yet – anime is a Japanese style of animation, featuring big-eyed characters many with brightly colored hair. The origin of anime dates back to the ’80s and the show Astro Boy (originally airing in 1963). You may also be familiar, at least in name, with the anime series Sailor Moon. Anime is often based on Manga series (Japanese style graphic novels which read from right to left).
I, myself, did not start to watch anime until the 2000s. My introduction was through feature length anime films by Hyao Miyazaki like My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. From there, I next explored some manga including The Ring and Death Note before really diving into the addicting world of anime.
The anime that hooked me in was the show Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. The magical science of alchemy exists in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and, as might be expected, grants unimaginable powers to its users. The basic story line itself centers on the journey of two brothers, Edward and Alfonse Elric, during wartime who are on the path to redemption after having used a forbidden alchemy.
Some who are unfamiliar with anime may consider the genre to be merely a cartoon, but they would be misinformed. Danette Pachtner points out in a blog titled “Seeing Japanese Popular Culture through Anime” for Duke University Library Magazine that: “Unlike American animation, which is predominantly a children’s medium, anime, with richer and more challenging story lines, is the major form of visual entertainment in Japan.” Many of the anime story lines, like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, raise inspiring, thought-provoking, philosophical questions. For example the anime Death Note features a teenage boy, Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook once owned by a Shinigami (God of Death). The notebook grants its current possessor the power to kill anyone by writing their name in the notebook while simultaneously picturing their face. So, if the possessor of the notebook uses it to kill people who are murderers and rapists, then is the user a hero or a villain? What if the possessor expands the kill list to include all criminals?
Anime features themes like those of good vs. evil, friendship, trust, betrayal, weakness, inner strength, family, love, and identity. The “Other”, be it gender-bending characters or supernatural and fantastical elements are frequently found in anime as well. They are not featured as aspects that define the shows, rather they are simply a part of the show. The character Armin Arlert from Attack on Titan is a fair featured, feminine character in appearance. Also, the anime Wagnaria, set in a family restaurant, includes a male character who dresses as a woman in order to help his coworker who is fearful of men. As for the female characters in anime, while typically voluptuous and beautiful, most in my experience are also portrayed as physically strong, self-assured and powerful. The animes Naruto and Naruto Shippunden feature the growth in personal confidence of several young female characters. Further, during the run of the series, one of the leaders or Kings if you will, known as the Hokage, is a woman: Lady Tsunade. Now, this isn’t to say anime is without its flaws when it comes to gender representation. For example, Tsunade chooses to alter her appearance so that she looks 30 years younger than her actual age – but being afraid of growing old is also different than a female character being portrayed as helpless simply because she is female. Not to mention that one of the most kick-ass characters in Shippunden is Granny Chiyo – a 100+ year old woman!
If you haven’t given anime a try yet, I can’t recommend it enough. Crunchyroll is an anime streaming site that offers both free with ads and ad –free subscription fee based options. Netflix streaming also offers some seasons of popular anime shows. Finally, try your local public library to see if they have any anime shows in their collection. There are hundreds of episodes of popular anime shows, so knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. If you aren’t sure where to start, give one of Hyao Miyazaki’s feature films a try. Next thing you know, you’ll be cosplaying as your favorite anime character and hosting anime viewing parties. As Naruto Uzumaki would say “Believe It!”