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Anime Vs North America
By Julie C., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Anime (and its comic counterpart, Manga), or as it was formerly known, Japanimation, are the terms used to describe Japanese style cartoons and comics, which have become widely popular in North America since the 1970's.

The main feature of anime that makes it distinguishable from North American animation styles is the "almost animated" element of this style that critics use when referring to anime. The reason for this is the fact that anime artists and producers use only 8 frames per second, which is the absolute minimum needed to make an object appear to move. Live action television in comparison uses 25 to 30 frames per second. Japanese artist and animnator Tezuka Osamu, who created Astro Boy, one of the first anime shown in both Japan and North America, founded this style of animation. Tezuka, who is now referred to as the "god" or "father" of anime, developed this temporary style in an attempt to produce one animated show a week with an inexperienced animation staff. This style is based on the concept of using as little new animation as possible, by using techniques as scrolling or repetitive backgrounds, still shots of characters that slide across the screen, and dialogue or shots where only one specific element moves (like mouths or eyes) move while the rest of the shot remains stationary.

Okay, so now you're probably thinking of anime as some kind of low-tech animation that grade school kids produce in their computer classes, but in some respects, anime is much more sophisticated than North American animation. In North American cartoons for instance, the art looks very inexpressive and unrealistic, while in anime, the artists use angular (compared to the circular style of north American art) face and eye shape to give the characters a very dramatic, realistic look.

The art style isn't the only thing that sets anime apart (and above in my opinion) from North American cartoons and animation. For instance, while North American animation is produced and manufactured almost exclusively for children and young audiences, anime is marketed specifically towards four different audience types- Shoujo (girls), Shonen (boys), Seinen (men), and Josei (women). Most anime series can also be broken down into four basic genres.

1) Mahou Shoujo- "Magical Girl" A normal, every day young or teenage girl is given, by varying means, some type of magical power, or forced into a supernatural situation where she must fight evil or malevolent forces. Normally very cheerful, upbeat, but sometimes gothic. Popular "mahou shoujo" series in North America are: Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth.

2) Mahou Kanojo- "Magical Girlfriend" A normal, usually geeky, unpopular, or anti-social guy ends up in a relationship with a beautiful, smart, usually magical or supernatural girl, and is usually put in dangerous or interesting situations because of it. Popular "mahou kanojo" series in North America are: Love Hina, Ah! My Goddess.

3) Mecha- "Giant Robots"- Usually set in alternate universe or futuristic worlds, human pilots save the world or fight battles using huge, ultra powerful mechanical suits of armour or animal shaped machines. Can range in what age they are aimed at, from young boys, to older men. Examples of "mecha" series in North America are: Gundam Wing, Zoids, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

4) Ai- "Love"- Romance anime, this genre also includes two sub-genres, Shonen-ai, or Yaoi relationships, which center primarily around male couples, and shoujo-ai, or Yuri relationships, which are centered around female couples. This genre is one of the most popular, and can contain serious, humorous, and controversial themes. Examples of "ai" series in North America are: Gravitation, Fake, Onagei Twins.

Beyond the genre and audience differences though, there are several common characteristics of anime that make it different from North American cartoons, and even movies. I asked an Otaku (a Japanese word used for anime fans) friend of mine what she thought made anime different (or better!) than American cartoons.

"It has good plots," says FHS student Rebecca A., "the storylines are interesting and complex, and the characters are well developed and realistic. That, and there are a lot of controversial topics (like male relationships) that are used in anime. It's refreshing, you don't see a lot of things like that in our cartoons, it's like we're scared we're going to corrupt kids or something."

I agree with Becka on that one. A lot of the anime I watch does have homosexual, as well as heterosexual couples, in them but most of the time, they really aren't used in a controversial or shocking way. They're used just the same as the regular couples. I think this really says something about the maturity of anime, that they don't treat homosexual couples as controversial or irregular they're just normal.

I asked another friend of mine who was into anime, but more into shonen styles what he thought, and this is what he told me.

"It has impressive weaponry, " said Brandon G. "The battle scenes are well choreographed, and the characters are very realistic. The heroes are real people who are down to earth and have issues like everyone else, instead of Western heroes who usually emotionless and condescending."

In my opinion as well, I think the characters, and their personalities are what make anime so much different (and better!) from North American cartoon characters. Anime heroes, and superheroes are real people. They have real life problems that can't be solved by their special abilities. They lose people they love, they argue and get into the fights with the people around them, and they encounter situations they can't get out of by themselves. It seems that the theme of a lot of anime is that you can't go through life alone, no matter how smart, powerful, or perfect you think you are, in the end you will always need someone else there to help you. In North American cartoons and comics though, it comes across much different. The theme there is that no matter what you do, no matter how many people you help, in the end, you have no one but yourself.

Compare some examples of North American typical superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, and Wolverine (two comics which I've read for quite some time). They fight for whom they love, and what they believe in, but no matter how hard they try, they never find happiness. Whatever special feature sets them apart from everyone else, that allows them to help so many people, always ends up hurting them in the end. On the other hand, if you look at a few anime superheroes, like Inu-yasha, (from Inu-Yasha) Von, (from Vision of Escaflowne) and Yami (from Yu-Gi-Oh), all of which are from anime series that show on North American television stations, you might notice something different. These characters win their battles and save the day not by alienating themselves from the ones they love, but instead by using the love they feel for them to find the power to triumph. Sounds corny, I know, but you see the underlying message here.

It seems that we (in North America) think that you really can't be accepted or be happy if you're different, and no matter how hard you try to help people and fit in, you'll always be alone. While in Japan, if what we see through the themes of their popular shows is true, then the message there is that no matter what sets you apart from others, or what adversities you face, you can always make it though by trusting in yourself and in others.

So, what's the real difference?

Other than the art, the target audiences, the controversial material, or the underlying message?

Well, in the end, I think it's all about what you truly want. Do you want things that are very smooth flowing and full of dialogue, like North American cartoons, or do you want something that's just a bit more emotional and realistic, like anime. I think anime appeals to a certain kind of people, maybe those who are just a bit more emotional, or a bit more idealistic, or just a bit more controversial.

Or maybe, you're just like a typical Canadian or American citizen, and as the Green Goblin stated in Spiderman ..."The one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail."


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