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Princess Mononoke from the Studio Ghibli film
  • 5 Reasons You Should Watch Anime

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    Posted on: 14/12/2015

    Sick of people dismissing anime as "something for kids"? Tired of trying to convince your friends that anime is actually incredibly poetic, beautiful and - at times - profound? In honour of our third Essential Anime film program, we've provided 5 Reasons You Should Watch Anime, which you can send to the non-believers. *shakes fist at them*

    1. Wonderful and Strange Worlds

    One of the most pleasing things about anime is that there's no telling where you'll end up. The destinations possible are immeasurable, evocatively popping off the screen with the only real limitation being an artist's imagination (and talent).

    In Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, we're led into a brilliant and bizarre land. As we tour around a resort for supernatural beings, who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, we meet a giant Radish Spirit, chicken-people spirits and adorable soot sprites that subsist on handfuls of the Japanese candy called kompeitō.

    The Radish Spirit:

    The soot sprites, or susuwatari (wandering soots):

    This uninhibited imagination in animes like Spirited Away, coupled with a complex layering of characters amid breathtaking surroundings, creates vast and rich places for us to explore.

    In many animes the worlds almost become characters too. Miyazaki's earliest Studio Ghibli film Laputa: Castle in the Sky and his famous My Neighbour Totoro both revolve around discovery and journeys into the unknown. Their resplendent colour palettes and attention to detail draw us further into the environs.

    Within both films is the theme of ecology, which carries across many of Miyazaki's films. Laputa dares us to enter the sky, full of air pirates and soldiers, to discover the mythical floating city filled with forest and treasure which humans want to raid and claim. Totoro sees two young sisters discover secret spirits who inhabit the woodland next to their new house. In each case, the natural world is a character itself and articulated as such. The fertile universes are truly something to behold.

    This homage to Miyazaki films miyazaki flight by Adam Paul Silverman showcases the dreamed up worlds perfectly:

    2. Fantasy and Escapism

    As we're transported away from reality in these worlds we can surrender to the uncanny and the whimsical. Anime has so much room to move that it's developed a unique power to entice and connect with us.

    There's no difference between The Fifth Element and a Dragon Ball Z movie. They're both works of fiction. However the vivid, colourful, flexible and seductive worlds in anime invite the viewer to flirt with carefree escapism thanks to the freedom of the visual medium.

    Dragon Ball Z's Goku:

    Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element:

    While a live action film using real actors employs VFX and editing techniques to assist in creating fantasy, audiences more readily place on them the restrictions of the real world. We expect live action films to follow rules and codes, which serve to constrain, and when they breach these codes they become an abberation that can sit uncomfortably, seem ridiculous or fake, perhaps even provoke disinterest.

    This isn't the case for anime. The genre encourages us to tap out of reality, to tango with the weird. If we're willing to suspend disbelief we're rewarded with the aforementioned wonderful and strange worlds. It's rather liberating.

    Undoubtedbly nostalgia plays a part in this, particularly in the west, as we're conditioned to see the art form - and indeed animation - as something for younger people. As it's linked to childhood memories perhaps we don't tend to critically challenge the worlds or characters within them like we would live action.

    Satoshi Kon's Paprika:

    Satoshi Kon's films are a wonderful example of embracing escapism. The filmmaker expertly blurs dreams with reality, consistently and stylishly. The viewer is rewarded for entering the crazed, hallucinogenic universes, encoutering a diverse range of themes from the philosophical to the psychological. These themes include, ironically, the dangers of abandoning reality, women presented through the lens of the male gaze, and isolation.

    3. Strong Characters

    One of the most popular manga and subsequently, animes, to emerge over the last decade is Naruto. Following the tale of an orphaned boy who's cursed to live with a demon-fox sealed inside him (you know, that old chestnut), the anime blends traditional Japanese culture and folklore with contemporary society.

    Naruto's epic fight scenes, relatable comedy, but most of all large set of complex characters, has earned it a place as one of the most successful anime series of all time.

    Essential Anime Blog Naruto Characters

    One of the best things about an anime series (which often have movie spin-offs) is that characters are generally given the chance to grow and evolve. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because we're able to build very close relationships with them over many seasons. We truly care about what happens to them, we love their personalities and appreciate what they offer to the greater web of characters around them. It's terrible because prolonging seasons means dreaded, hellish filler.

    Naruto in particular goes to great lengths to establish the relationships and bonds between characters. It also promotes strong female characters who are just as courageous, resilient and integral to the storyline as their male counterparts. In fact, the gender balance of the main cast is much better than a majority of western films and TV series.

    Hidden Leaf Village shinobi, Sakura Haruno, in battle:

    Gender diversity and indeed spieces diversity is often represented in anime. A good portion of the film Princess Mononoke is dedicated the voice of the animal and forest spirits, whom are as central to the storyline as the humans. The animals are firece, brave and express their views on the people obliterating their forest.

    Of course, we should acknowledge that there are a lot of animes out there that objectify female characters terribly, and at times male characters, and that work to desexulise the industry would allow for more interesting avenues of storyline such as Naruto. On that point...

    4. Robust Stories

    If you've ever seen the original Neon Genesis Evangelion television series, you may remember it initially feeling like a clusterf%$@ of internal brain snaps. What and why are an army of gigantic foreign entities attacking planet earth? Why are these high school children having such complex existential crises? Why is there a penguin living in Miss Misato's freezer?

    The Eva pilots in the series:

    Essential Anime Blog Evangelion Characters

    Neon Genesis Evangelion is not only a sophisticated look at religion, mythology, mental illness and psychology, but the craft of the illustration itself and manifestation of the storyline on to page/screen is incredible.

    The saga is confronting and doesn't pull punches. It's a post-apocalyptic world in which remaining society battles against a race of immense monstrous beings trying to annihilate humanity. Simultaneously, the cast of characters are compelling as their interpersonal relationships, personal problems and traumatic events in their past play out over the series. The spin-off films for Evangelion are no different, offering equally rich stories.

    Fortunately for us all, Evangelion is not an exception to the rule. Many animes push boundaries and take risks resulting in inspired narratives, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop and Paranoia Agent.

    Neon Genesis Evaneglion televsion series intro:

    When animes get this mix of ingredients perfect, from the worlds to the stories, it fosters intense loyalty. And rightly so.

    5. Fandom and Community

    Feature and live action films, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, and Marvel and DC heroes aren't the only players in the fanboy/fangirl market. Nor are videogame empires Nintendo and Playstation. Anime holds its own.

    Anyone who's ever been to Supanova or the Australian Movie & Comic Expo can vouch for the multitude of Sailor Moon, One Piece or Pokémon series characters strolling about. Anime lends itself to the art of cosplay, for instance, very well due to the exaggerated features that a lot of the genre's characters possess. The idea of a protagonist changes from anime to anime; artist to artist. One could argue that the genre is more inclusive in this regard.

    In this epic example of fandom, two cosplay artists Malro-Doll and Ryoko-Demon demonstrate their love of anime dressing up as Pokémon's Team Rocket:

    Essential Anime Blog Pokemon Fans

    Anime engenders such fierce love for the characters bringing fans together and like any good shared experience it fuels creativity, discussion, passion and friendship.

    The fandom and community aspect is important for a number of reasons. It helps legitimise anime as an art form that is taken more seriously. When people are reacting to anime in the same way a die-hard fan of a musician or actor might, it gains cachet. It opens it up to a wider audience catchment. People start to seriously analyse and pull apart complex narratives within their favourite shows and films. When critical discussion occurs around anime and more people are watching it, more people are enjoying the anime experience.

    Ultimately, there's nothing like connecting with your mates over food, a live gig or a fantastic match of cricket or footy. Why not anime too?

    - Miles Openshaw, Digital and Social Media Advisor

    Essential Anime Heroines runs from 14 Dec to 23 Dec.

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