Anime, a shortened form of the word “animation,” is, in simplest terms, Japanese animation. It can refer to any number of shows and movies produced in Japan, though it often follows a distinct style. Though the United States has its own rich history of animated cartoons as well, anime seems to have leaped across the pond and established just as strong of a presence. Video streaming services like Netflix and Crunchyroll have only made the genre even more accessible to the average American viewer.
Like many, however, I’m clueless. I’ve seen part of a show or two on Toonami, Cartoon Network’s Anime-heavy late night block. I know a couple titles and characters from casual conversations with some of my friends. I even reference things like “it’s over 9000” despite never having watched an episode of “Dragon Ball Z.” Despite this, it’s obvious from my casual, passing knowledge and experiences that anime is prevalent in globalized cultures outside of Japan. To really find out what it’s all about, I asked three students with varying degrees of interest and taste why they watch anime, how they got into it and what they like about it.
When I talked to junior philosophy and history major, Abe Fernandez, I first asked about a few shows he may know. He did not disappoint; I was met with a lengthy, thorough list of anime and manga, the Japanese style of comics.
“I actively seek them out,” said Fernandez.
He said that he got into anime and manga simultaneously. For anime, it was Toonami. For manga, it was the local library. When he described the young adult section he came across growing up, I knew exactly what he was talking about. My school’s library, as well, had rows of colorful, neatly-arranged, right-bound volumes in the young adult section that were popular to check out. The initial appeal for Fernandez was their entertainment value, speed of reading and, if you wish to buy your own, low cost. Some of the animations he listed off as ones he knew or watched included “Naruto,” “Psycho-Pass,” “One Piece,” “Bleach,” “Cowboy Bebop,” “Full Metal Alchemist,” “Death Note,” “Digimon” and “Inuyasha.” As he pointed out, several of these shows started out as manga. Their popularity spawned their also popular television/movie counterparts, not unlike the common practice of creating “comic book movies” in the United States. Often for viewers outside of Japan, only the animations are known.
For Fernandez much of the appeal, especially in manga, comes from its rich, relatable stories and escapism. Stories often involve themes aimed at adolescents and young adults, Fernandez explained. Though exaggerated, supernatural worlds are often employed as settings, a subset of “slice of life” anime and manga—set in places like modern high schools, a workplace or the house of a family—are his favorite.
Many of us have been watching various cartoons, from “SpongeBob” to “South Park,” since a young age. A love of cartoons in modern times is not only accepted but encouraged. For Austin Wilkinson, sophomore chemistry major, this love extends beyond just the American cartoons he grew up with and knows so well. Shows like “Sword Art Online,” “Soul Eater,” “Attack on Titan” and “Ace Attorney” exhibit elements well-liked in American cartoons and comics but introduce new elements, as well.
For Wilkson, the anime that he enjoys exhibits a few common trends and themes. The shows contain action that is not merely “copy-pasted,” as he puts it. Action scenes are artistic, well- planned and not meant to be taken as shock or filler. Like Fernandez, he enjoys the long, complex stories acted out by easily recognizable characters. Though his favorite shows take a serious tone, he enjoys the occasional humor and dicey romantic elements.
Jakson Pennington, sophomore music major, discovered anime when he was an Army brat in Egypt. Without Toonami or a library manga section, Pennington stumbled upon “Naruto” on YouTube. For him, the appeal was in the stylized action and unusual seriousness for a cartoon. As he pointed out, virtually all American cartoons are comedic. He enjoys them, he says, but he also enjoys serious, action-filled cartoons like “Death Note,” “Elfen Lied,” “Hellsing Ultimate” and “Full Metal Alchemist,” which he describes as his favorite. For me personally, he suggested “Death Note,” a how he described as a crime show, noting my love for “Law & Order.”
I watched an episode of “Hellsing Ultimate” with him. The show follows a unique premise that I wouldn’t expect from an anime: a group in England, of all places, aims to protect the country from supernatural creatures, such as vampires. The show was highly stylized with time stretching, dark shadows, exaggerated features and outfits and, of course, the distinctive style one would expect from a Japanese animation.
With hundreds more shows and manga series produced by Japan every day, the possible ways to explore an interest in anime are seemingly endless. One doesn’t even have to be an enthusiast; all it takes is the love for a good story, a good character or good artwork, depending on what you’re looking for. For those unsure what they want, or those who want a broad representation of the genre, start with any of these: “Attack on Titan,” “Naruto,” “Full Metal Alchemist” and “One Piece.”