Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The ABCs of Anime part 1 (Philippine Setting)

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the word anime. You might have come upon it from word of mouth, seen it on TV, read it in a magazine, or passed by it in a toy store, but it in either case, you have a vague idea of what it is. Of course ask a person to name an anime they know and each one would give you a different answer: Ghost Fighter, Sailormoon, Pokemon, Gundam, Voltes V, Beyblade... The list goes on. Ask them to define it and you’ll probably get as many answers as well. One then can’t help but ask, what really is anime and what makes anime anime? Those more ambitious might even ponder, why is it popular here in the Philippines?


In any evolving language, not only do words suddenly develop but different meanings arise as well. Look at any old English dictionary and you won’t find the term anime. However, newer dictionaries like the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary has it in one of its entries and defines the word as a style of animation marked by colorful art, futuristic settings, and violence [Jap. < ANIMATION].

While that definition may serve for some, that is hardly the context the word anime is used. Not all anime is violent, a lot don’t have futuristic settings, and certainly some don’t even have colorful art. However, the dictionary does cite Japan as the source of the word and has its roots in animation.

Upon consulting a Japanese-English dictionary, anime is listed as the shorter version of the word “animation” and defined as an animated cartoon. Working with that framework, anime encompasses a lot of shows and includes productions from the West as well as the East. And strictly speaking, in Japan, movies from Disney and cartoons like Powerpuff Girls are indeed called anime.

Still, that isn’t how the word is used, whether on the Internet or in our local setting. Why do we call shows like Voltes V and Sailormoon as anime but not cartoons like Popeye or Flintstones? Perhaps a better working definition for anime is that when most people use it, it is to refer to animation produced by the Japanese, or Japanimation as it is sometimes called.

If that is the case, then why not just modify the definition in the various dictionaries and claim it as a style of animation marked by colorful art, futuristic settings, and violence by Japanese? Or perhaps a Japanese animated cartoon?

For one thing, there is a certain stigma when we use the word cartoon, at least in the Western context. Our concept of cartoons is usually associated with slapstick comedy and shows made just for kids. While anime does have shows like that, it also has other shows that have mature content and certainly not suitable for children. The opposite extreme is to label it as animation that is purely futuristic or violent. The former characteristic describes the science-fiction genre and while some anime possess science-fiction elements, not all of them do so. The latter characteristic arises from the fact that one of the more popular anime imported in the West were bloody and full of gore like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. To a culture that is used to equating animation as tame and for the juvenile, certainly the violent aspects of anime is etched in their consciousness. But that description doesn’t do justice as well since there are anime that lacks violence and even aimed at toddlers.

Clearing the Misconception

The contradictory elements of anime might be confusing to some. How can animation not be for kids? Or if we consider it as adult cartoons, how come children watch it?

Anime is a medium, not a genre. A genre is limited by its theme and when people talk about cartoons, it’s usually in reference to the genre of animation that deals with entertaining kids. A medium, on the other hand, is just a means to convey a message. TV, radio, and film are examples of mediums and they aren’t stuck to one genre. TV might have several shows, each belonging to different genres: TV Patrol is nonfiction, Days of Our Lives is soap opera, Will and Grace is sitcom, and Smallville is action/drama. Similarly, anime is a medium that is capable of having shows that appeal to various genres.

I can’t blame you if your concept of anime is merely a cartoon geared towards kids. After all, that’s what most networks are cashing in on, just like the association of primetime TV with soap operas (at least here in the Philippines). But just because that’s the case does not mean it would always be limited to that. In fact, children-oriented anime are merely a slice of the bigger pie in Japan. With over 30+ anime airing every week, not all of them is aimed at kids. There are anime productions targeting high school students, the working class, and even married couples.

No comments: