Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Anime is Some of the Best Storytelling

That should probably say "Why Manga is Some of the Best Storytelling" since most animes I have seen were based on manga. However, I don't read manga, but over the past couple of years I have somehow become a huge fan of anime.

(Why, if I love anime so much, don't I read the manga? Isn't the book always better than the movie? Well, I just don't like the graphic novel format compared to the animated series format. And anyway, by all reports, anime tend to follow their manga far, far more closely than any movie ever followed a book.)

It started with InuYasha, a story about 15 year-old Japanese school girl Kagome who goes through a magic well and finds herself in the Feudal Era where she meets and teams up with a half demon called Inuyasha to find all the shards of the Shikon jewel before the evil demon Naraku can use it it make himself more powerful. In one sense it's a pretty straightforward action/adventure fantasy story. There's lots of fighting and lots of people with cool powers. (After watching and loving nearly 200 episodes of InuYasha I still cannot bring myself to swing a sword without shouting the name of Inuyasha's signature move: "Wind Scar!!") But on another level it's the very emotional journey of a group of people whose lives have been irreparably altered by the power of the Shikon jewel which inspires terrible acts of hatred and greed wherever it is found, even just a piece of it. (I highly recommend it.)

That's the great thing about manga/anime. There are always multiple levels.

On the surface anime is generally flashy and fun, down and dirty storytelling. It doesn't mess around. It knows what it is and it isn't afraid to play by its own rules. Those are: 1. all fights are liable to take place over the course of several episodes because all the participants do a lot of talking in between actions. 2. all characters who get into violent conflicts on a regular basis have at least 10x the amount of blood that normal people have. 3. whenever possible, do everything with style. 4. the phrase "less is more" has no meaning here. More is always more. 5. drama and comedy go hand in hand. 6. anything can happen. 7. there tend to be a lot of very, very pretty men and boys and very, very well endowed women and girls.

Eye candy from InuYasha: Sesshomaru

(There are more principles of anime, I'm sure. But that's what I can think of off the top of my head.)

But despite all the style and flashiness, excitement and fun that makes up the top layer of anime, there are many, many other layers to explore. But for heaven's sake let's be simplistic and only talk about a couple of layers today. Let's talk about story in general.

I can no longer think of many movies made by Hollywood in recent years that weren't entirely willing to kick good storytelling to the curb in favor of flashy special effects and stylistic flair. Anime is not. The animes that I have watched so far have all been incredibly well rounded in the story department. Superb visualization and conceptualization of the setting, deep and meaningful characterization, forward moving and compelling plot, and thematically rich.

Over and over again I have been continually amazed to find that the best new stories I have experienced over the last couple of years have been in anime format. I think manga/anime is getting a lot of things right that a lot of people over here in the west have forgotten. I'd like to do some posts where I highlight my favorite animes and the aspects of storytelling that they excel in.

 Have you watched any anime? If so, what are your favorites and what do like best about their storytelling?


  1. I'm amazed at some of the wonderful and complex stories I've come across in anime and manga. Years ago, I was pulled into it with Sailor Moon. I went through the fun stuff like Read or Die and into the darker ones like Elfen Lied. A lot of people are thrown off by the animation, but there's incredible worlds in animes. The stories have a maturity and depth that most American cartoons lack.

  2. I love me some Anime. InuYasha is one of the best. My daughter loves Naruto, and it's pretty good, but I prefer quieter, cerebral stuff, like Mushi-Shi, or Moribito.

  3. Christine, the animation is certainly something that it takes time to get used to. I was VERY skeptical of anime at first, mostly because of the weird (to me) animation but now I think it's just so beautiful.

    Matthew, I've tried both Naruto and Moribito and didn't really get into either. Naruto (the character) was too annoying and Moribito just didn't capture my interest.

  4. I've not read any manga, but I've seen a lot of anime. I'm old school - Akira and Battle Angel are some of the best.

  5. Alex, having only come into anime recently, my husband and I have been slowly finding stuff we like from among the many, many anime that are now on hulu.com. We're 200+ episodes through Bleach right now and loving it.

  6. I love to look at pictures of anime, does that count?

  7. Anime is so much fun. Cardcaptor Sakura and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are my favourites :) You're so right - beneath the flashy graphics are amazing stories.

  8. Nicole, I'm afraid it doesn't. Go forth and watch some anime forthwith!

    Miss Cole, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the one that really opened my eyes to how great anime can be. It was amazing.

  9. I haven't really watched any anime. But I have found that when looking up different kinds of characters, a lot of the characters people mention are from anime; it seems like a diverse field!

  10. Actually, manga is copied from anime as often as the other way around. In fact, the series (what's the plural of series?) that really started manga/anime were anime series: Space Battleship Yamoto (Starblazers) and Gotchaman (Battle of the Planets). [I still love Starblazers (great story) and so do my kids; although, I can't sit through Battle of the Planets anymore.]

    Check out Cowboy Bebop. That's a great series. I need to buy it at some point. I'm pretty sure that was first anime, also.

  11. Cowboy Bebop is great.

    For reading, you are really doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least try "Lone Wolf and Cub". Cinematic manga at it's best.

  12. Golden Eagle, I'll be covering some of the great characterization that I have loved so far. It really is awesome. You should give it a try!

    Andrew, well, I can only speak for what I've seen thus far. Maybe I'm more drawn to stories that were manga first. And I'm generally more drawn to the ones that are more mythology based and less futuristic.

    Stuart, I've heard (can't remember where) of Lone Wolf and Cub. I've got a lot of animes to go through already and you guys are naming a lot more! ;)

  13. Using a picture of Inuyasha for your post was like geek bait. Notice how quickly we all gathered here. *grins* Great post, Sarah!

  14. I haven't watched any anime, but I love this post and your passion for anime. Great job! I'll have to check out some anime.

  15. I haven't watched anime in a long time, but when I was young, my cousin and I used to love Tenchi. :)


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