A comment on my last post with anime reviews asked: “So… why do you like anime?” The more I thought about it, the more I thought the answer warranted its own entry.
Let’s say this upfront: Anime is a medium, not a genre. There are many different anime with many different subject matters and visual styles. And certainly not all anime is good: there’s a lot of mediocre and some abject bad stuff out there. But there are some real pearls to be found.
I do think that my tastes are outside of the norm for anime enthusiasts: there’s a lot of long-running series based on “battle manga”, with large fights and ever-escalating power levels. Series such as any of the Dragonball series, or Naruto or Bleach or Fairy Tail or One Piece are huge hits — and I have zero interest in them. So in this entry I’ll describe my personal preferences, which might lie outside of the norms.
I think that I like anime because of the stories that can be (and are) told in the medium. Some stories could easily be done as live-action series, but end up as an anime instead. Anime seems to be more open to experimentation, and there is an ‘accepted’ route for a manga or light novel to be made into an anime, whereas the step from those to a live-action is much larger and convoluted — there are cases where it happens, but often there is an anime in between!
Just today, we finished watching ACCA, a political intrigue about an inspector for the government in a federal kingdom of 13 territories. It’s not flashy at all, there’s very little action, no improbable machines, but the story is very gripping.
Or take Fune wo Amu, about the multi-year project to create a new dictionary. Writing a dictionary, how boring can you get? And still, it’s interesting to see how the editors go about their business, the challenges they face and the (office) tactics they use to overcome them. Again, no action.
Other stories are too fantastic to turn into a live-action series, because it features things like mecha and space battles. For those kinds of stories, anime is an ideal medium. There is of course the Macross series, which would require a mind-numbing CGI budget if it were to be combined with live-action actors, but in an anime the bar is lower: you don’t need photo-realistic renderings to integrate with cell-animated characters.
The effects and the set decorations for something like Mushishi would make it prohibitively expensive to produce in a live-action series format (though there was a live-action movie made), and it started out as a manga, thus it ends up being an anime.
Or take something like Uchouten Kazoku, about shape-shifting tanuki raccoons in Kyoto. Either you’d have to shut down the city centre to take your shots and add lots of digital effects, or you just draw everything from the comfort of your studio!
And yes, anime has a certain visual style and a certain way to tell stories, which is different from live-action series. It’s different, and for some people that causes them to not enjoy watching anime — even though they would probably enjoy the stories being told themselves. I also happen to like the visual and storytelling style, which makes it easier for me to enjoy the stories being told too.