Borrowing from the French word for cartoon, Japanese “anime” has become incredibly popular here in the United States. Even back in the days before television, animated features that were made in Japan were often imported by larger studios, a notable example being the film, “Shonen Sarutobi Saksuke,” released as “The Magic Boy” in the U.S. by MGM in 1959.
However, it wasn’t until the early 60’s when Japanese animation began to define itself. On January 15, 1960, “Three Tales,” a fairy-tale anthology, became the first animation broadcast on Japanese television. While there were still many feature length animations produced, the genre hit its stride with various animations produced for television, the first series being “Otogi Manga Calendar,” a sort of “This day in history…” kind of show.
In subsequent years, many genre milestones were made, such as the first giant robot series “Tetsujin 28-go” in 1963 and the first anime space opera in 1974 titled “Space Battleship Yamato,” named for a famous WWII battleship used by the Japanese government. These were later followed by the classic “real robot” mecha series, “Mobile Suit Gundam,” a cultural mainstay in many of the present fandoms.
As the medium began to explore more and more genres, the popularity of anime began to spread overseas as many North American companies sought to capitalize on that popularity. While some heavily-edited series fell through, some thrived and became mainstays in the nations where they aired, the most notable example being the classic, “Dragon Ball Z,” which has been dubbed into more than a dozen languages worldwide. It is here, however, when things start to get ugly.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any parent who doesn’t worry about what their child watches on television or in movie theatres. Back in the days before the internet, there was no real way to see if content was safe for children, aside from doing the logical thing and screening it before letting your child watch it. Another thing to keep in mind that even to this day, most people in the U.S. and Europe equate animation with “cartoon”, something meant for children.
Simply put, parents will complain about anything and everything and place the blame on the distribution companies rather than research the material beforehand. This is the same exact scenario that prompted the “Mass Effect” scandal a while back, so this does happen. As a result, pressure is put on distribution companies to make sure that the series they distribute are safe children’s television.
While the logical thing would be to only license series intended for children, we instead get series that have been heavily-edited to the point of laughability, whether it’s something simple like dialogue alteration or something drastic like changing cigarettes into lollipops.
In recent history, many companies who produce these series in Japan have become fed up with how companies mishandle their franchises, the most notable example being the TV Tokyo lawsuit against 4Kids entertainment over how the company handled the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” franchise. 4Kids has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Now for my own thoughts on anime as a whole. While I do watch certain series, I’m not so into the fandom that I attend every single convention that comes up. I’m not one of those anime nerds that watches every single thing licensed by Funimation, particularly because Funimation has licensed some really bad series. “Master of Martial Hearts,” anyone?
On that note, many people ask me why there’s still an aversion to the medium even though there are some really good series out there. The best answer I can give tends to be that it’s the fans themselves. It’s an overwhelming environment for those who are unfamiliar, one abundant with enough jargon and terminology to make your head spin.
If you want to get into anime, here’s an important piece of advice. Ignore the fandom. Find a series that you’re interested in watching and base your judgments on the series itself. If you’re an anime fan that’s trying to get a friend into a series, the same thing applies. Let the show speak for itself. Don’t bog everything down with who you want to cosplay or which pairing you like, because most of the uninitiated aren’t going to care in the slightest.
This concludes our look at animation. Since next week will be in the heart of October, we’ll be taking a look at the history of horror movies, starting with classic Universal monsters.
As for what anime series I recommend, here are my top picks.
Mainstream: “One Piece”
Art House: “The Tatami Galaxy”
Old Classics: “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”