Beyond the Boundary – The Anime Craze

Everyone and their mothers are familiar with the blue cat Doreamon and his futuristic antics. The Beyblade craze has seen many children engaging in beyblade ‘battles’, Ash and his Pikachu have won hearts all across the globe and many of us have grown up with Naruto on CNN.

Anime or the idiosyncratic piece of Japanese media has already penetrated the western semantics of entertainment and otaku is no longer the pejorative idea connected to anime viewing. While the Japanese view the medium as anything that has been animated, Western media labels anime as a form of animation originating in Japan. Modern anime traces its roots to the traditional art forms of emaki (montages of vivid depictions painted on long scrolls of silk used by travelers for storytelling purposes) and the kagee (or shadow puppetry originally from Japan). European phantasmagoria or the widespread use of magic lanterns to generate projections playing with light and shadow too garnered interest of the general public.

The Second World War saw the advent of anime as the vehicle of propaganda. Thus the government in collaboration with the armed forces sought to create a distinct Japanese identity and nationalist thrust through propaganda mediums. Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei or Momotaro’s sailors was one of the first feature length movies in Japan built on the idea of Imperialism and waging successful wars against the American forces.

Anime has come a long way and the popularity of shoes in the west like Yu Gi Oh, Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon. Anime is distinctly different from the Western cartoon and there is truly no way of one medium claiming superiority over the other. One of the primary differences is the illustrative sketches ( the wildly inaccurate proportions of cartoons v/s the realistic proportions with exaggerated eyes and colorful hair colours in anime). Western cartoons like Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are inspired from the anime stylistic choices.

Thematically , anime branches out into genres above and beyond what the expectations from an animated medium. While genre specifications are more of a demographic in anime, it is undeniable how certain characteristic features come to be associated with the same. Arguably the most well known of all anime genres, shounen (etymologically meaning young boy) suggests a target audience of young men with male protagonists usually on a fantastical adventure involving a greater good of mankind. The hot headed naive protagonists with the heart of gold, the ragtag bunch that transcends into found family, the ‘growth arc’ of the hero accompanied by a mentor figure- Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z- most shounen series features them all. The settings can be fantastical lands to magical contracts to the average run off the mill sports stories. The stories however are anything but average- full of exemplary courage, faith, self improvement through goal oriented productive outcomes and most importantly- the growth of the character in either physically or spiritually and very often both. Shoujo is modelled to the typical interests of the young girl- interpersonal relationships, slice of life settings and a plethora of romance. However this reductive image of the shoujo as a shallow endeavour compared to the action heavy shounen is changing- Sailor Moon, considered by many to be the first groundbreaking shoujo series involves active action sequences- albeit the moves are named “Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss.” It is however important to note how these massively popular and eminent genres are pushing the envelope and incorporating elements typically found in the opposite. For instance Bishonen, (stands for pretty boy) is clearly rooted beyond heteropatriarchal norms and is the effeminate image of a man with often stereotypically feminine inclinations- a highly interesting undermining of the rules of masculinity. This trope is used liberally not just in genres catering to women but also in male dominated genres.

Genres are located securely enough in the market to incorporate psychological concerns, PTSD , social concerns and much more in all its finer aspects. Fruits Basket , while a shoujo, treads the lines of generational trauma, guilt and the healing of the psyche through its fantastical setting while engaging with the typical requirements of romance. Hunter x Hunter despite its 1991 production brilliantly stands the test of time in incorporating non binary gender connotations to major antagonists and protagonists alike. One Punch Man is a wry satire on the very shonen genre itself while deftly placing itself within the ‘superhero fights for a greater purpose trope’- the protagonist Saitama is world weary of his own superhuman strengths and craves defeat- a subtle nod to the increasing commodification of our own contemporary truth. Ouran High School Host Club takes the idea of a reverse harem ( a female protagonist encircled by a gaggle of male admirers ) and is a brilliantly subversive take on drag, LGBTQ+ representation and fluid gender roles even though some of it is dated and does require nuanced handling to prevent stereotyping. Then there is the seinen and the josei- intended for an older male and female audience respectively. Deviating from the norm of the optimist ‘saviour’ with his merry band of friends out to save the world there is the depiction of jaded adults, of the drudgery of failing to live the life one always desires- issues like sexuality that might just be a footnote in other genres are given full reign in all its diversity. Nana, for instance, (a josei anime) deals with the essence of female friendships and of women supporting other women in a male dominated patriarchal setting- a beautiful empathetic cocoon of empowerment and community. Mecha anime has by and large also become one of the representative forces of anime as a whole. Standing for an umbrella term referring to science fiction or technology that has anything to do with humanoid robots the genre has produced humongously popular shows such as Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, Macross and so on along with its legions of video games.

In the vein of Pablo Picaso’s immortal “All art is subversive”, anime shows a petulant streak of commentary and satire on relevant issues- some subtle and some relatively overt. Cloaked in the joviality of being animated, the quietly powerful subversive tone it speaks in is easily discounted and thus escapes censure more effectively. In Mamoru Oshii’s cult anime film Ghost in the Shell, the cyborg Major Makoto Kusanagi does not essentially feel, and the nonchalance in nudity is purposive in the ironies of detachment in an interconnected society. The price of trading our very organic existence is a chilling question the anime poses before its audience. Even the Major’s name comes from a traditional Japanese sword- a vehicle of attaining the means to an end. The World Government in One Piece presents a frighteningly harmonious world history and orchestrates the disappearance of the fact finders who can work the patchwork of the truly violent oppression that holds the facade of the united world. Attack on Titan premises its characters in a walled dystopia with monstrous Titans roaming beyond the walled cities to devour unwitting humans. When a breach of the wall happens, the socio-economic and political power play witnessed is not foreign in nature – COVID-19 among the most recent events, unveiled the glaring discrepancies of privilege for safety. The humans in the walled cities are enchanted by false charismatic leaders, false information is rampant in its dissemination and religion is ostensibly used as a figure of pacification. The titular Fullmental Alchemist inhabits the city of Amestris – one that is essentially constructing a nefarious plot to gain power by sacrificing innocent civilians. The anime as a medium is implicitly rallying for legal positivism – a philosophical cum legal stance opposing absolute the actual reality of laws and regulations – not as inherently ascertaining ethical codes of conduct but how laws and humane ethics are sometimes digressive from one another. The protagonists of One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist and Attack on Titan are initially complicit to or unaware of the gross manipulation of the sanctioned legal structures but soon revolt and work to thwart these naturalised legal processes in lieu of preserving the truly ethical and humane. Legal positivism unapologetically accepts that legal authority arises by bootstrapping: a ruler has legal authority only because a critical mass of legal actors accepts that authority. The rule of recognition, unlike all other rules of a given legal system, is simply a social convention and when the corrupting powers have played their part and the institutions of authority are essentially hoodwinking the populace, the sanction to rule cannot hold. The truth is uncovered and comes the inevitable revolution and fall. Code Geass and Death Note- immensely popular anime from recent years portray power in its all corrupting Machiavellian tenets- the fatal ability to play God.

Cosplays and Halloween alike see grown adults dress up as Goku and Sailor Moon figures and anime movie Your Name is one of many to have amassed amazing sales beyond Japan. Popular online forums and fandom culture along with free streaming services has bolstered otakus and weebs out of their isolation and brought communities together. It is safe to declare anime is not obscure although many may not associate with the peculiarities of a hand drawn medium, overlooking the crucial fact that its themes remain relevant and resonant all across humanity.

– Bipasha Bhowmick

Picture Credits: ft.com

Most Popular

To Top