Thursday, July 15, 2004

I Must Face The Evil Warlock Who Killed My Father! Give Me The Boots Of Oruku, So That My Cyber-Psionic Power Will Be Unmatched!

I have mixed feelings about Japanese anime; the storytelling potential of animation is enormous, and I give the infiltration of America by anime all kinds of credit for slowly breaking down the absolutely tragic perception of animation as primarily a children's medium. However, the writing in most anime that I have seen is pretty shoddy - and the dialogue is almost uniformly atrocious. Now, I'm willing to attribute most of that to problems inherant in translating between vastly dissimilar languages, but at least some of it is due to differences between Japanese and American culture. What I'd really like to see is an emergence of American (or British) written anime intended solely for an adult audience, stripped of most of the cutesiness that infects virtually all Japanese anime to one degree or another. The Animatrix, for example, is a very promising development which I hope will inspire similar efforts in the future. See also: Samurai Jack, which is somewhat kid-oriented, but combines some very good storytelling with simple but very dynamic animation.

Why does the potential of anime excite me so much? Several reasons.

- You can do anything. An animation screenwriter doesn't have to worry about whether something can be realistically depicted onscreen - if you can draw it (or computer-generate it), you can do it. This could be particularly useful in the science fiction, fantasy, and historical genres, which in live action cinema require huge amounts of money to look anyhting but cheesy.

- Which brings us to cost. Compared to live action cinema, animation is dirt cheap, especially if you're talking about effects-heavy productions.

- Which brings us to specialization and risk taking. Since animated movies are cheaper, they don't have to do nearly as well at the box office to recoup production costs, which in turn means studio executives would be much more willing to take a chance on something experimental, or something that would appeal to a specific audience. The reason that big-budget movies are so often cringe-worthy is because, due to that big budget, they need to make lots and lots of money, which means they have to try to be all things to all people, which leaves most people disappointed in one aspect or another. This is particularly evident in the sci-fi genre, where people like myself would be willing, in order to get a movie that doesn't need to sacrifice a tight, smartly-written story in order to pay for the special effects, to kill somebody - particularly the idiots who produce ludicrous, bloated characatures of science fiction like Armageddon. I also really like the idea of a historical drama set in some little-explored period, without having to make it a star vehicle or fill it with anachronistic and ahistoric elements in order to broaden its appeal.

- Animation eliminates the need for actors to be pretty. Voice roles can be cast based solely on talent, instead of on whether someone looks right for a role. An example off the top of my head is the dude who played Kraven in Underworld. Yeah, he sure does look like the leader of a vampire clan, but everytime the guy opened his mouth, I wanted to put tire iron in it. In his defense, it appears that he was born in Ireland, which means his verbal awkwardness may have been due to the director forcing him to use an American accent - which of course only reinforces my point. Had Underworld been animated, he never would have been cast in the role.

So, um, yeah. Support adult animation1 in the US! Or something. I don't really have an action plan on this one.

Note: This post inspired by a post by DenBeste, which I read only enough of to see this summary of a particular anime series:
"In an alternate reality, in 1920's Japan, the capital is under assault by mystical forces. The primary attackers are called Wakiji, and they are partly mechanical, partly biological, and partly magical. They are also virtually invulnerable to conventional weapons which the military tries to use against them, and can only be defeated by rare individuals who have very strong spirit power and who can learn to control it.

They can use their spirit power with weapons such as swords or even pistols, but with sufficient training, they can also use their spirit power to move armored suits called Koubu, which are far more powerful. But that is very difficult. And there are four special enemies, particularly powerful and particularly menacing, who show up now and again who are not so easily defeated. Nor do the defenders know why the city is being attacked, or what the attackers hope to accomplish.

A small number of young people identified as having the greatest potential spirit power are collected together, in the desperate hope that they will master their power and bond as a team in time to be able to fight and defeat the enemy before its plan is completed. As an aid to development of discipline and teamwork, they operate as a theater company. But the enemy plan continues to unfold, and the team doesn't seem to be pulling together. Time is running out.

Sakura Shinguji is the last girl to join the group, and she is potentially the strongest of them all, for she carries the blood of the destroyers of evil, as her father did before her. The series begins as Sakura arrives in Tokyo to join the company, and culminates with a climactic battle between the Imperial Flower Division and the mysterious enemy seeking to destroy the capital, which can only end in total victory or complete defeat." (emphasis added)

Goddamn if that isn't a spectacular display of every crappy anime cliche in existence. Shit like that is the reason I don't like anime.

1 Non-porn, that is. Animated porn is really fucking weird, and if you are into it you are a freak. No exceptions.

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