What is Anime?
Anime is either hand-made or computer generated animation productions that originated from Japan. The characteristic anime art style emerged in the 1960s from the works of famous comic artist, Osamu Tezuka.
During Tezuka’s era, most contemporary mangas (“a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, aimed at adults and children), were told in a straightforward, stage-like fashion. Tezuka broke the norm and published illustrations full of action and emotion. He developed the method of telling stories in the matter of a filmmaker. He inspired comic book and animation characteristics and genres that remain fundamental elements of anime today.
The 70’s: Early Beginnings
Earlier anime series followed the typical good vs. evil formula. The 1970’s ushered the era of sophisticated approach in televised anime. Lupin Sansei featured a master thief as the main character. This series was packed with slapstick violence and adult humour, it was obvious the series’ target were the older audience. The program became so popular, it spawned 2 more TV series and several movies.
The 70’s was also the era of anime's science fiction genre. Some titles that garnered great reputation were Kagaku Ninja-Tai Gatchaman (U.S. title: Battle of the Planets & G-Force), Great Mazinger, and Ucho no Kishi Tekkaman (U.S. title: Tekkaman). Audience particularly loved the stylish giant robots and spaceship designs. These were the start of space operas in animation.
Mobile Suit Gundam also started in the 1970’s although it was considered a modest hit. Its sequels, Gundam films, videos, TV sequels, and extensive merchandise soon gave the series global popularity, it became one of the most popular anime of all time.
The 80’s: The Anime Explosion
This is the time when more demand for sophisticated and exciting anime made TV and film producers scramble for good stories. These stories were usually derived from popular manga titles. Some animation production houses turned to literature for inspiration. Japanese classical titles such as Genji Monogatari (U.S. Title: Tales of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu, and Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru (U.S. Title: Night of the Galactic Railroad) by Kenji Miyazawa, became huge film hits that anime became known not as a “kids only” kind of entertainment.
When the home video market happened, Japanese fans finally could buy copies of their favourite anime series and movies. Some production companies even bypassed creating traditional TV series and released Original Animated Videos (OAV).
A variety of anime genres started to emerge. Examples are insane alien comedy Urusei Yatsura, gender-bending Ranma 1/2, romantic comedy Maison Ikkoku, cyberpunk themed Akira, Bubble Gum Crisis and A.D. Police. Since OAV’s are available for direct purchase, strange and sexy programs like Kekkon Kamen, also became available. With this barage of anime genres, audiences have become more receptive to non-kids type of animation.
Two production companies lead anime into the 21st industry. These are Gainax and Studio Ghibli. From these studios emerged the first generation of animators raised on anime. Driven by their passion for the medium, both companies created titles that will become legends in the world of animation. Some of these titles are No Umi No Nadia (U.S. Title: Nadia the Secret of Blue Water), Shin Seiki Evangelion (U.S. Title: Neon Genesis Evangelion), and Mirai no Shonen Conan (U.S. Titles: Detective Boy Conan). This was also the era when works by the world-famous animator, Hayao Miyazaki, gifted the world with memorable human stories to which he is known for.
Today and the Future
With anime’s variety of genres and tantalizing way of telling stories, international audiences are also enjoying the influx of anime into their countries. Popular anime titles like Pokemon, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball has delighted children and adults alike.
A most significant move that happened for anime is when Disney Studios made a deal with Studio Ghibli to bring Miyazaki’s masterpieces to American audiences. To this day, plenty production houses still produce new anime series and movies to the delight of otakus (anime fans) everywhere.
Reasons Why Anime is so Popular
Although I don’t get to watch as much anime now as before, I am still an otaku by heart. I rehash anime series and movies from my generation and I follow current popular ones. Regardless of the type of anime I’ve seen, anime has distinct characters that set it apart from other types of entertainment. Below are the reasons with examples based on popular titles of my time. Although some titles may not be well-known right now, I highly recommend these titles.
1. Expect full-scale episodic stories
There are hundreds of anime series designed with beginning, middle and end. These series often have subplots that tell a larger story in full. Some large shows even run for years to finish while some have only a handful of episodes to show.
“I shall punish you in the name of the moon!"
- Usagi Tsukino, Sailor Moon 
Sailor Moon tells the story of a high school student becoming a soldier of love and justice. Together with fellow pretty sailor soldiers, they battle evil to bring peace to Earth. As cliche as that plot sounds, what makes Sailor Moon a beautiful series is its epic saga about Moon people reincarnated on present Earth in hopes to one day restore the power of the majestic Moon Kingdom - and to finally fulfill a promise of love between the Princess of the Moon and the Prince of the Earth.
There are two versions of these series. The first Sailor Moon series aired from 1992-1997 in Japan over the course of 5 seasons. It loosely followed its manga counterpart unlike it’s recent Sailor Moon Crystal adaptation, which started airing July 2014.
2. Depth of Character
With anime’s episodic nature, a viewer will eventually invest in following the growth of one or more characters. Many shows have characters that does change, sometimes quickly and sometimes gradually, over the course of it. These characters can start the show with a dark past, or a past that interrupts the present. Regardless of the theme of the series, whether it’s for finding love or surviving life after a tragic event, the characters will always provide ways to have the viewer relate and connect with them.
Edward Elric is one multi-dimensional character from Full Metal Alchemist. He immediately portrays a wildly ambitious, cocky genius of a character. He can be comedic and pull of wild takes and sight gags especially with comments relating to his small stature. He could be superbly sensitive and emphatic after a tragic scenario. Never underestimate his power, for behind his childlike appearance, he will readily kill anyone who stands in his way. Yet, he could also be the nicest guy in the world given how much love he gives to his younger brother and friends.
“On the day we left, we burned down the family home and all the familiar things inside. Because some memories... aren’t meant to leave traces."
- Alphonese Eric, Full Metal Alchemist
Edward’s complex characteristics was brought about by a grievous past that left him technically handicapped with an metallic arm and a leg, and his younger brother’s soul trapped in a huge armour. This tragedy brought him on a mission to find for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, an item that could restore his and his younger brother’s bodies to normal state.
3. Depth of Story
Social issues, political gossip, questions of morality, concept of humanity, religion, these are themes not often found in any other animation. Anime doesn’t shun these topics. These became the foundation for memorable series as they put into forefront concepts we don’t often ask in public.
Meet Kamui, a teenage boy destined to save the world - or destroy it in the year 1999. He needs to choose whether to become the leader of the Dragons of Heavens, those who will preserve Earth, or become the leader of the Dragons of Earth, those who will obliterate humanity.
X/1999 plot revolves around questions whether it is worth it to protect humanity. Man destroys nature and is completely unaware of the way Earth is dying. The Dragons of the Earth believe that only by ridding the Earth of ‘Man' will Earth regenerate. The Dragons of Heavens believe there is hope for Man, and that Man must not be killed until they are presented the chance to do what is right.
“Why can’t we kill humans? Why is it that killing plants and animals are ok but not humans? Do we deem humans as far more superior than them? Who are we to make such judgements?"
- Igarashi Satsuki (X/1999)
If there is anything to describe X/1999, the word ‘epic' comes to mind. It has deep psychological insights, ecological sensibilities and well-executed drama and romance amidst intensified chaos. The dilemmas presented, such as Earth regeneration and whether humanity deserves to live, engages the reader without lecturing or needing an answer. You will think. You will think about your ideals and beliefs. X has effectively brought onto the screen a high value production of intricate storyline that will leave viewers sympathetic to the plight of the characters and be aware of the current ways of the society.
4. Realistic Romance
Almost all relationships in anime are dealt with an honest approach that it can be startling. Similar to watching a Hollywood prime time series, you become invested with how the relationship develops between characters. Whether the plot is about the pursuit of relationship in high school, unrequited love or love that developed amidst chaos, the impact is worth remembering.
Not every relationship starts with love at first. This is what happened when high-school student Hitomi was transported into a medieval looking world called Gaea. Unfortunately, that world was at war. Her psychic abilities to foresee events before they happen became an asset to Van, the young king of Fanelia, who took a noble oath to protect her while she was in Gaea. They didn’t get along at first and Hitomi developed feelings for a Knight named Allen.
"Was it all just a dream? Or a vision? Not it all really happened. It began the day I asked the tarot cards if I’d find love."
- Hitomi Kanzaki, Vision of Escaflowne
Through the series, Van’s hid his feelings for Hitomi seeing how Allen is openly flirting with Hitomi. Later on in the series did Hitomi realize that her real love is Van. She realized that it was Van who kept on protecting her at a distance. She mostly liked Allen because he looked like a schoolmate Hitomi had a crush on before she came to Gaea.
5. It Isn’t Just for Children
With so many genres to choose from, you are bound to find a series that is well suited to your taste. Anime doesn’t hide realities. Death, divorce, crushes, love and loss are all familiar in kids anime. Some anime series and movies even thrive to target both children and adult audiences.
Whisper of the Heart is a timeless classic of finding your place in the world against the norm of the society. The story revokes around Shizuku, who like most young adults, questions her ability to fulfill a dream of becoming a novelist. She meets a boy named Seiji, a boy her age who is passionately following his dream to be a violin maker.
"When the afternoon air currents mix, we can even tough the stars without fear!"
- Shizuku, Whisper of the Heart
Some viewers complain that the movie progresses much to slowly. Somehow, the slow pace is essential for the build-up for Shizuku’s eventual becoming to what she wanted. This is a heartfelt movie that successfully matches how everyone passes that phase in life in finding his or her place in the world. This film isn’t too deep for children not to understand, but it isn’t too shallow for adults not to engage with.
6. Culture/History is Important
Anime has taken great pride investing in history timelines for a great plot. Culture plays a bit part in a lot of shows although some had taken great strides to portray a part of history. This can make the a show educational in some aspect.
Samurai X has successfully presented Japan to many parts of the world. Its plot centers in the 11th year of Meiji era. Kenshin, the main character, is known as a blood thirsty assassin. But he actually is a peace-loving wanderer, who only uses his sword to protect peace. Painfully motivated by his tragic past, he made a vow to not kill anyone with his sword but merely to weaken his enemies. He goes into many scruples, wars, and near-death events, but his will to protect those closest to his heart becomes his driving force to live.
"Once you have a power, sometimes you are put into a situation which makes you carry extra burdens, and live all your life with pain."
- Seijuro Hiko, Ruruonu Kenshin (Samurai X)
In this series, you will get a sense how life was in the Meiji era. Many historical settings and political topics will arise often in dialogues making the series seem authentic.
7. The Laws of Anime are Funny!
These are the unofficial laws of anime that anime fans are aware of. These may be considered stereotypes for anime and are the reasons for anime’s uniqueness of style. Many of these sound funny but contributes to the “fun” of watching anime.
1. Law of Sonic Amplification, First Law of Anime Acoustics
According to science, in order for sound to travel, there has to be something with molecules for sound to travel through. There is no sound in deep space because of the large empty areas between stars and planets.
Yet, in sci-fi oriented anime shows, explosions are so loud because there is no air to get in the way. We need the sounds for the impact anyway.
2. First Law of Temporal Mortality
‘Good Guys’ and ‘Bad Guys’ both die in one of these two ways.
(1) They die so quick they didn’t even get the chance to blink.
(2) It becomes a long drawn out affair that they are able to reflect on the workings of the society, human existence, and sometimes make a long speech about their life regrets before they draw their last breath. Another word for this? Extended character drama.
3. Law of Follicular Chroma Variability
Any colour in the visible spectrum will be used as a natural hair colour. In some cases, this colour can change without warning or explanation. I’ve seen emerald, fuchsia, sarcoline, smaragdine, wedge, etc. Yes, some of these colour names are unknown but you will somehow find them in anime hair.
4. Law of Extradimensional Capacitance
Anime characters have an extra dimensional storage space of variable volume hidden on their person from which they can instantly retrieve any object in a snap. They can store a heavy mallet, uniforms, costumes, weapons, and a large bazooka. Tell me, where can I find such a purse?
5. Law of Inverse Attraction
Finding suitable mates is inversely proportionate to how desperately you want to be successful. The more you want, the less you get. It tells you not to do anything when you like somebody. Hmmm.
6. Law of Probable Attire
Female characters wear as little as possible, whether it is socially or meteorologically appropriate. If a female character wears excessive clothing, it will later be ripped to shred or torn off somehow from her body.
Male characters will wear long cloaks which doesn’t seem to hamper movement. They need it for dramatic moment when it billows out behind them. It adds an air of mystery for the character.
These are only but a few rules. You can research about the other laws if you feel like it.
8. Nice Music
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” There is no need to understand the words in order to fall in love with the melody of a song. You can also just fall in love with the voice of the singer. The universality of music allows us to potentially love any music genre despite its meaning or origin.
At most times the song don’t tell a lot about the series but is connected to emotions and events in it. If you think about it, anime songs are simply part of the fandom. There will be cases when you will find songs that are gems to listen to.
Some recommended anime music titles are the following:
- Tank - Cowboy Bebop
- Gurn no Yumiya - Attack on Titan
- Inner Universe - Ghost in the Shell SAC
- Making of Cyborg - Ghost in the Shell
- A Cruel Angel’s Thesis - Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Go - Naruto
- The World - Death Note
- Again - Full Metal Alchemist
9. Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki has gained worldwide recognition. His works influenced so many others including some of the biggest moments in Pixar Films. Anything he did with Studio Ghibli is considered required viewing because his animation style and skill to engage well with human emotions is superior to this day. Anime has influenced Western animation, but none more than those done by Hayao and Studio Ghibli.
To see how beautifully and legendary are Hayao Miyazaki’s films are, check some of his works below.
- The Wind Rises (Miyazaki as Director and Writer)
- Won EDA Award from Alliance of Women Film Journalists for Best Animated Feature Film (2013)
- Won Annie Award from Annie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Writing in an Animated Feature Production (2014)
- Won Award of the Japanese Academy for Best Animation Film (2014)
- Won COFCA Award from Central Ohio Film Critics Association for Best Aniated Film (2014)
- Won BOFCA Award for Best Animated Film (2013)
- Spirited Away (2001, Miyazaki as Director and Writer)
- Won Academy Honorary Award (2015)
- Won Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (2003)
- Won Silver Scream aware in the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival (2003)
- Won the Golden Berlin Bear Ward from Berlin International Film Festival (2002)
- Won the Sierra Award from Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards (2000)
- Howl’s Moving Castle (2004, Miyazaki as Director and Writer)
- Won Reader’s Choice Award from Mainichi Film Concours for Best Film (2005)
- Won NYFCC Aware from New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Animated Film (2005)
- Won SDFCS Award from San Diego Film Critics Society Awards for Best Animated Film (2005)
- Won Nebula Award from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for Best Script (2007)
- Won Best Director from Tokyo Anime Award (2005)
Need I say more?
Anime has gained worldwide recognition. It has set its own genre and caters to all ages. Although many series don’t seem to gain as much hype and popularity as their 80s and 90s predecessor, really good ones does pop out form nowhere.
Watching anime is like getting invested in an animated version of a soap opera. Unlike typical television soaps, anime can fire up your imagination and brings you into a realm where everything is possible. You gain insights. You sometimes question your beliefs. You learn life lessons.
Anime titles I’ve included in this article are those I have seen and holds a special place in my heart. Do you want to include your favourite anime series here? Want to share or recommend anything?