Okay, I like AnimeNation just fine as an online store, an anime news site, a forum, and, now, even a domestic anime distributor, under the AN Entertainment label. And I can certainly understand the need for a company that both sells anime and distributes it to toot the anime horn and present it as being a superior entertainment option. However, their new "Parent's Guide to Anime", which isn't even a guide, like ABCB.com's "A Parent's Guide to Anime", but an essay, and one that, sorry, reads like a well-written and properly punctuated version of an "ANIME IS TEH BESTEST THING EVAR!!!" fanboy screed.
Here is the most problematic paragraph in the piece:
"The often overlooked fundamental difference between Japanese animation and American animation is Japanese animation's unspoken policy of treating animation like any other type of fiction. Unlike American cartoons and comic books that star one-dimensional superheroes or talking animals or characters that exist only to advance a story, anime focuses on characters that think and act like real people. The characters in anime have real-world motivations, emotions, conflicts and problems. They are as fully developed "people" as characters in fiction novels or live-action movies. In effect, although they?re animated, the stars of anime are anything but cartoon characters. For example, Bugs Bunny has only his next one-liner on his mind. Superman thinks only about how to protect Metropolis while maintaining his disguise as Clark Kent. An anime character that has to pilot a giant robot to protect the Earth from alien invaders may fear being injured or killed, stress over living up to his heavy responsibility, feel anxiety over a crush on an attractive schoolmate, and worry about getting to his part time job on time, all at the same time!"
See, that's the number one thing that annoys me about a lot of pro-anime propaganda**, the cheap shots they often take at western cartoons. No, not all American or Canadian cartoons have "one-dimensional" characters. Have these people ever seen The Nightmare Before Christmas or King of the Hill or The Iron Giant or Daria or Undergrads, which are just some examples American-produced cartoons which have at least some characters which aren't just one-dimensional? All those cartoons have strong, character-driven storylines. Even a lot of the superhero cartoons, especially those made post-Superfriends, have characters whom do worry about things outside of their day-jobs, inspired, yes, in some cases by anime, but also their source material. comic books, has, in many cases, matured compared to what they used to be in large part due to the graphic novel revolution of the 1980s, as well as influences from more underground comic books prior to that era.
And, of course Bugs Bunny is completely one-dimensional... he's the star of seven-minute long cartoons which are basically successions of sight gags with Bugs as a "trickster" character. And some of those cartoons are absolutely brilliant in that way, because some cartoons neccessitate one-dimensional characterizations; multi-dimensional characters in one-dimensional situations wouldn't work. One-dimensional characterizations are not a sign of inferior writing, just a different style of writing. And to imply that there aren't any Japanese cartoons with one-dimensional characters is just ludicrous. Adventures of Mini-Goddess is an example of seven-minute long gag cartoons with characters, with the exception of Gan-chan whom is the comic foil "straight man" (or "straight rat", I suppose), just as one-dimensional as anything in the Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes stable. And, yes, there are plenty of bad Japanese cartoons with one-dimensional characters, like an awful lot of the Dragonball or Yuu Yuu Hakusho-clones I've seen, which, if I named them, I'd get angry e-mail from the fans which would read like "But in episode 92, so-and-so-a-character, who's usually a generic tough guy, showed some degree of anguish, therefore he isn't one-dimensiuonal!", in which case I could name "In episode XX" examples for the American cartoon shows I watch to disprove any one-dimensional claims. Yes, even for Ralph Wiggum. And Urusei Yatsura, about my favourite anime, has mostly characters whom are one-dimensional at least 90% of the time. The times when Ataru does show his affection for Lum doesn't disprove the fact that he's a fairly one-dimensional girl chaser in most episodes.
Also, some anime fans make too much hay out of the alleged superiority of anime because these cartoons have arcing storylines, unlike American cartoons... erm, some American cartoons have had arcing storylines, like Disney's Gargoyles*** or Thundarr the Barbarian. And many anime, including things I like, like Urusei Yatsura, Patlabor (for the most part) and You're Under Arrest, are just as episodic as most American cartoons. Sometimes I just want episodes with self-contained storylines that don't really affect the overall continuity; even the best episodes of Cowboy Bebop, in my honest opinion, were the so-called "filler" episodes. The story arc episodes were actually relatively boring and depressing, especially the last episode wherein Spike gets killed****.
Really, some of the arguments for the superiority of anime in the paragraph I've excerpted above are just the flipside of Todd H.'s ridiculous arguments against anime in his e-mail to Berit Kjos's Crossroad.to with implied ALL statements regarding non-Japanese cartoons (well, except for the claim about ALL anime being witchcraft, which is unparalleled). The problem with ALL statements is that, 99% of the time, they're easily debunked. There needs to be a few uses of "in general" or "by and large" in this article for cartoons made on both sides of the Pacific, which would eliminate a large portion of my specific objections to this piece.
"From space aliens to cyborgs to witches to even simple contemporary teenagers, anime characters think, act, and react like real, living people in realistic settings and situations. In contrast, American cartoons simply don?t deal with realistic characters in realistic settings and circumstances. So in effect, the Japanese animation industry is much more similar to the American motion picture industry than the American animation industry. And in the same way that not every movie at the local multiplex is suitable for every viewer, not all anime is suitable for all viewers."
SOME anime characters think, act, and react like real, living people in realistic settings and situations. Others act like the cartoon characters they are. And SOME of the western cartoons I've mentioned have characters acting in realistic ways... hell, there's even a Canadian cartoon based on Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse, one of the most realistic comic strips there is. But realism isn't a virtue in and of itself, it depends on the intent of the cartoon. Hank Hill acting "normal" (if you ignore the comic exaggeration) would be par for the course
"Unlike live action cinema, which is limited by the technology of cinema and physical ability of actors, anime is limited only by the imagination of its creators. There are examples of Japanese animation in every genre and style imaginable, including comedy, history, science fiction, horror, romance and drama. There are anime programs created specifically for children, for adolescent girls, for teen boys, for young adult women, for families, and even for adult viewers only. And in accordance with its emphasis on believable characters and realistic situations, some anime does indeed include graphic nudity, sex, violence and other content that select viewers may find offensive. On the other hand, there are also full length anime episodes that are about events no more threatening than choosing seat assignments on the first day of school or the pleasures of a peaceful country library on a bright spring day. It's a mistake to assume that all Japanese animation is suitable for children just because it's animated. Likewise, it's also grossly inaccurate to stereotype all anime as exploitive sex and violence."
OMG!!! ANIME IS TEH MOST IMAGINATIVE THING EVAR!!!
Well, that's a little unfair summation of that paragraph, but, still, that's largely what it reads like to me. And, if you ignore books and comics, it largely true that animation has the capability to be somewhat, well, I don't think "more imaginative" is quite fair, just the capability of live-action is more restricted by budget than anime in general, but, with the advances of special effects over the past decade, the gap is closing, make no mistake about it. And animation, likewise, is limited by budget... for hand-drawn animation at least. Two characters on the screen at once are fairly easy to animate, but crowd shots are a bitch, especially if they're animated. Vehicles also are a pain in the butt to animate properly, especially if they're close enough that the perspective changes drastically... one reason why I think the You're Under Arrest OVA episodes are severely underrated is that they animated the cars themselves quite beautifully, with no distortion or stretching when the cars turn a corner. In the You're Under Arrest TV series, often the cars would be still images, panned or zoomed to create the illusion of motion, but that looks a lot cheaper. Another drawback of hand-drawn animation is that often character designs will be streamlined to make them easy to draw over and over. Each additional element is something else the animators have to draw and redraw. This is why, for example, Sailor Moon lost the wingtips in her hair from the original manga in the anime in the first couple of seasons (the later seasons had a bit more of a budget, so they brought them back for Super Sailor Moon).
And some anime is more imaginative than others, but 90% of anime is fairly derivative and falls neatly into one or the other category. And pure imagination is also not something that is a virtue in and of itself. One thing I certainly can't deny about Spirited Away was that it was imaginative, but one of my biggest problems with the film was that it was so imaginative that the plot just meanders, and a lot of the imaginative stuff I didn't find all that interesting.
Plus a lot of anime is just as commercial and cookie-cutter as a lot of American cartoons. Yes, there are some auteur-driven anime from directors like Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, and Hayao Miyazaki, but those productions are the exception, not the rule. If the person whom I think wrote this (whom I won't name since this is not a personal attack; it's a person whose opinions I respect even if I do not always agree) is indeed the person whom wrote this, he'll tell you that all anime is Art, but, while technically true (anything drawn is art), I'm a pragmatic anime fan whom thinks that point of view is just pretentious. Or maybe I'd say that all anime, and cartoons in general, are "art", but very few of them would be worthy of hanging in the anime equivalent of the Louvre. (I know I've heard something similar said once, but it's not one of the "95 Theses Against Fandumb"... maybe it was from Zac Bertschy, whom tends to be a lot more level-headed about such things.) Sorry, I refuse to care about the artistic integrity of stuff like Pok�mon, and to suggest that all anime is worthy of being taken as seriously as Art as Millenium Actress just demeans Millenium Actress. This is why I prefer to stay out of the "artistic merit" game entirely and instead just value the anime I enjoy, no matter how highbrow or lowbrow the consensus opinion seems to be.
As for western cartoons, I find Untalkative Bunny to be wonderfully imaginative in its own weird little way. By and large, there are fewer commercially-viable genres in western cartoons, but cartoons can be just as imaginative within a genre.
"It may seem pretentious to say, but in fact, anime may be for contemporary generations the equivalent communal entertainment that stage dramas and opera were for audiences during centuries past."
Yeah, sorry, for a lot of us anime fans, saying such things is indeed pretentious. Another downside of articles like this one (and several well-meaning newspaper articles after Spirited Away's Oscar win) taking anime too seriously as art, at least if you enjoy the sort of anime I tend to enjoy the most, it that such an attitude sucks an awful lot of the fun out of anime. It doesn't affect my enjoyment if someone else enjoys certain specific anime as high art, but a better statement would be "Different people enjoy anime for different reasons." I like a lot of Japanese cartoons which are indeed just dumb, goofy fun, like Project A-ko or 90% of Urusei Yatsura episodes.
"At its best, anime can be educational and both morally and spiritually encouraging. The vast majority of anime, though, is simply pure escapist entertainment, enjoyable for the most innocent viewer and the most critical skeptic alike."
Now that's a much better statement. I wish there had been more like this in the article. My only real quibble is implying that the escapist stuff is of lesser virtue than the artistic stuff.
"Anime appeals to a broad spectrum of Western fans for two reasons. First, its bright, colorful and kinetic visual style is unlike anything else most Western viewers have ever seen."
Generally true. I don't feel like nitpicking that one.
"Second, unlike so many examples of American pop-culture obviously targeted at the lowest common denominator, anime largely presumes the intelligence of its viewers."
Aww... so close to ending on a high note. There is just as much "lowest common denominator" anime, especially the fan service ones like Popotan or Rizelmine.
Well, that's as much of the article as I felt like excerpting. If this isn't just a Christmas shopping thing and it may still be edited, add a few more "in general"s or "more often than not"s and admit that some anime is indeed garbage and get rid of some of the gross generalizations about western cartoons.
As for me, if I was writing a parent's guide, a general "Anime are cartoons animated in Japan for a Japanese audience" would be a sufficient explanation, and, rather than making erroneous generalizations, I'd just name many examples of anime which would be suitable for most children, taking into account the things certain parents, especially of Christian or feminist stripes, might have problems with, and I'd also mention some of the titles most popular within the anime fandom niche and say how they are or aren't suitable for children below a certain age.
**In the dictionary sense of the word "propaganda", which doesn't neccesarily mean anything sinister in and of itself.
***Actually, if you remember what I said about Michael Eisner a couple of weeks back, there's one solid thing I can name where Eisner deserves some degree of the credit for being the guy in the boardroom whom supported it.
****Meh, I think we're past the "sell-by" date on that spoiler; it's been out on DVD for three years now.