Now before I get into this, let me say that I respect bateszi a lot. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he does say it very well. And even if I disagree, I can appreciate his point of view. And hell, he liked GTO.
It’s just that his latest post got me thinking about why I like anime.
But I think I have to give you all a little history, so you know where I’m coming from. I grew up watching Doctor Who. In particular I grew up watching Tom Baker play Doctor Who on public television every weekday. And I didn’t watch it in the two hour block that it would be later processed into. No, I watched it a half hour at a time. So an entire arc could take a week or two to play out. When you’re eight, an hour can seem like a long time, let alone a day. But every weekday at 7:30, I made sure I was in front of the television when the show started up because I didn’t want to miss a thing.
That’s when I fell in love with the serial.
Serials really are unlike any other form of storytelling. Mostly because they aren’t self contained. A really good serial will pull the viewer in and leave them thinking about, “what’s going to happen next time?” in a way that traditional episodic television simply doesn’t do. That’s not a knock on episodic television, just to say that they’re different.
Now with a rare exception, the majority of American television in the 90s was episodic. I don’t blame the networks for their choices as far as that goes. I mean episodic television is safer. The stories are self-contained and don’t rely on a person having watched the previous ten or so episodes so they get what is going on. Producing those kinds of shows just makes good business sense.
But it didn’t help me much.
So I started watching anime. Now as a medium, anime does the serial really well. In fact, I’d risk saying that they do the serial better than they do episodic television. Now I’ll admit that I started watching anime again on Cartoon Network. I even sat through the entirety of the Cell Saga on DBZ, although I’m still wondering why. And once I had the means and ability to buy anime, I did.
And it was about that time that America resurrected the serial with The Sopranos. In all honesty, I haven’t watched the Sopranos, and I don’t really have any intention of watching it (mostly because Mob shows are the one form of crime drama that I don’t like.) But I have watched 24, Lost and Heroes with split feelings on all of those shows. But I can say all of those shows have one thing in common.
They aren’t anime.
American serials (for the most part) work on the premise that no matter how weird things get, this is a story about real people living real lives. I mean take a look at Heroes. Here’s a show about a group of people who find out one day that they have superpowers. Even the most bombastic show of all time – 24 – is still a show about the progression of Jack Bauer as a character. The creators have even said that much.
In fact, when a show starts pushing that boundary of realism too far (24) people like me start to cringe (how many times can the guy get tortured before he finally dies.) Now part of that has to do with the medium. Part of it has to do with the nature of American fiction. But with any of these shows they’re required to stay within people’s expectations of how real people should act and what real people should be able to do. And each time they diverge from reality they’re taking a risk of losing their audience.
Whereas anime can break all the rules and get away with it. I mean could you imagine a live action Kamui and Fuma zooming around Tokyo tower holding swords nearly as long as they are? Or a real Lain standing in the middle of a bunch of jabbering mouths attached to shadowy figures? Or even someone playing Shinji Ikari kneeling at the feet of Unit 01 debating with himself whether he should really pilot it? I know I couldn’t. (All rumors of a live action Eva aside.)
But because they’re removed from the realm of reality, it becomes believable. We can imagine these things happening because somewhere in the back of our heads we’re thinking, “It’s just a cartoon.” And that’s the beauty of it. In fact, I’d compare it closer to another type of teen entertainment – the comic book.
Now anime that cuts a little closer to reality can certainly be good. I enjoy Monster. I think Kaze no Yojimbo is easily the best hard-boiled detective series that’s ever been animated. But they’re mostly a novelty. Interesting, yes. Intelligent, sure. But I could turn on my own television and see the same thing.
It’s not that I deny that the American serial has a certain amount of appeal. I mean I like some of them. But it’s a different type of story with a different type of medium and a different approach. Judging one in the light of the other just doesn’t seem fair.