Anime has made an impressive impact across the world in the past years. The anime craze has reached millions of people, increasing the number of anime fans. If there is one question though, that bugs the life out of an anime fan, it would be, “Isn’t anime the same as cartoons?”. Well, folks, anime is not the same as cartoons. While cartoons are for viewers of all ages, anime can be violent, gory and even sexual, proving to be more suitable for adult viewing. Unlike cartoons, anime provides viewers with a wide range of genres: romance, action, horror and even comedy. In Japanese, the word anime is originally an abbreviation of the word animation. It uses signature aspects of Japanese-style animation, like vibrant colours, dramatic panning and characteristic facial expressions.

For many, even those who don’t watch anime frequently, the one anime that would pop up in their mind would be Naruto; a classic. Some others include One Piece, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and some of the infamous Studio Ghibli movies like My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. Over the course of the decade, anime has reached massive heights with distinctive art styles and ingenious plots. For this article, Echo is happy to give its readers a simple breakdown of anime and its influence across the world.

Studio Ghibli and their Enchanting Influence on Anime

Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when anime is talked about are films like My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. Aside from being artistically animated heartfelt stories, another common denominator for each of these films and many more would be the man who enlightened the world with the magic of anime, Hayao Miyazaki. The 80-year-old prides himself on drawing all his characters by hand instead of relying on computer graphics.

However, Hayao Miyazaki was not the only man behind the spellbinding storytelling. He did, in fact, head a team of animators and producers that have now become the pioneers of anime production, leading anime to create waves in the film industry. One of Miyazaki’s greatest hits of all time, Spirited Away, received a few notable awards such as the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2003 Academy Award for best-animated feature.

In 1986, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was poorly and inaccurately edited for release in the United States retitled as Warriors of the Wind, Miyazaki banned his films from being released in the West for 10 years. Finally, in 1996, a deal was made with Walt Disney Studios to simply distribute Studio Ghibli’s movies under the condition no editing of the films was to take place. 

What makes Studio Ghibli different from Walt Disney would be how the female leads are portrayed. While many of us do love the romantic ending of prince charming saving the princess, Studio Ghibli shows how independent a female lead can be. Admittedly, there is romance in most of its movies, but take Princess Mononoke for an example, where a forest princess is raised by wolves and fights against humans who exploit the forest for its resources. Or the 1991 movie Only Yesterday, where a woman connects with her pre-adolescent self to find more answers about her future.

Studio Ghibli touches on subjects that make its viewers think, perceive and form an opinion of their own. It dives deep into teenage dreams, youth, environment, love and the wonder that we call the world.

On the left, Warriors of the Wind, a poor remake, and on the right, the original Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind.

Just Two-Dimensional or Real-life?

One of the biggest controversies among staunch anime fans would be live-action movies. The question is whether to like or not to like. Why is it such? Generally, most live actions don’t live up to their anime standards. In fact, anime live actions have received tremendous backlash from regular anime buffs. The characteristic of anime that makes it what it is today is its distinctive art, continuously expanding plots and impassioned dialogues.

Now, take these all and add them into a live-action movie. Naturally, the true essence of anime has been crumpled and replaced with stunt doubles and a huge amount of CGI. One of these known live actions done by Hollywood would be Ghost in the Shell. Originally a sci-fi anime movie in 1995, the live-action version of it featured Scarlett Johannsson, a.k.a Black Widow back in 2017. The movie however, received quite an uproar for casting a white in a Japanese role. This raised a debate on how Hollywood was whitewashing Asian movies by predominantly casting the white in Asian roles, be it anime live actions or common films.

Of course, there are also several live actions done by the Japanese themselves, one of the most infamous one being Rurouni Kenshin which has five movies adapted into live-action, its last instalment being released last year on theatres and streaming platforms such as Netflix. Due to the anime spanning across five movies, it was able to deliver the storyline in a compact but satisfying manner. Compared to other live actions, viewers received it well due to the very real lightning-fast sword-fighting scenes that featured tight and elegant choreography.

Epic fight scenes in Rurouni Kenshin

Besides Rurouni Kenshin, more anime live-actions from Japan were received well by anime enthusiasts. Some of the best live-action roles were played by the Alice in Borderland actor, Yamazaki Kento. A few prominent films of his would be Death Note( the Japanese version), Wotakoi: Love is hard for Otaku and Your Lie in April. Fans were quite pleased with these adaptations of the manga and the anime, as the characters and the plot was roughly the same as the original.

The truth is simple though, to adapt the unique art and dialogues that an anime has is something intricate. Not every anime or manga can be made into live-action, and not everyone can act or produce a fulfilling live-action film. But, as loyal admirers, one can only hope to see their beloved world of fantasy come alive.

The Voice Behind the Character

As one spirals down the rabbit hole of anime, you begin to truly realise the wonders of voice acting and appreciate talented voice actors themselves. Many people believe that voice acting was only popularised through animated movies by Disney and the West. However, simply watching one anime might just turn that stereotype on its head. A person cannot truly say they’ve experienced a whirlwind of gut-wrenching emotions when watching a show if they haven’t already seen anime. It is the hallmark of Japanese voice acting to be able to convey emotion with consistency and very specific intensity. 

Seeing as there are over 130 voice acting schools in Japan, it should come as no surprise that there is indeed a very devoted fanclub for voice acting and specific voice actors. Some may even go so far as only to watch a show for the sole reason of hearing a specific voice actor. As glorifying as this may sound, the voice acting industry in Japan didn’t boom until the birth of anime. In fact, the specific name for Japanese voice actors, seiyū (a shortened version of the kanji that denotes “voice actor” – koe no haiyu), is actually resented by many older voice actors. This is because originally, the art of dubbing and voice acting was usually done by other stage and film actors who only used their actual voice as the characters they voiced for. True seiyuus, were actors who used specific character voices when doing voice-overs, and oddly enough, they were considered to be the “lesser” type of actor, despite their ‘shape-shifting’ voices. 

It wasn’t until the 1980s, when Japan experienced an anime boom, that these voice actors were getting much-deserved recognition and fame. Voice actors like Natsuki Hanae (currently voices Tanjiro from ‘Demon Slayer’) and Yuichi Nakamura (currently voices Gojo Saturo from ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’, and Hawks from ‘My Hero Academia’) have become household names in the voice acting industry due to their distinctive technique and voice acting style. For instance, Hanae is known for the amount of emotion he is able to convey through the various characters he voices for. Nakamura, on the other hand, tends to give his characters a very likeable and amusing, deep-toned voice. He’s usually voice cast as ‘cool’ characters, the most recent being Gojo Satoru in Jujutsu Kaisen. Other voice actors have become widely popularised in recent years for the very accurate portrayal of the characters they voice. Such is the case of Yuki Kaji, who is most well-known for his voicing of Eren Yeager in Attack on Titan. 

Many fans have expressed that they prefer the original Japanese voicing of the characters over the English dubbed version despite the language barrier for most people. Since a lot of work and energy goes into forming the perfect ‘character voice’ there is little surprise that simply watching an anime in the English dubbed version strips away the authenticity and emotion each character holds. Thanks to anime, these voice actors and the voice acting industry in general, have been getting their fair share of appreciation for the efforts they take to breathe life into each character and in turn, establish emotional connections with their fans globally.

The Anime Effect

Given its large, global fanbase, anime has heavily influenced many aspects of Japanese culture more than most realise. Ever since its boom in the 1980s, anime has been the inspiration behind many festivals and events that have become almost customary in Japan. 

Take for instance, the AnimeJapan convention that’s held annually. Formerly known as the Tokyo International Anime Fair, it is the prime Japanese animation industry’s convention, and it is also regarded as one of the largest animation related events in the world. Usually attended by multitudes of locals and foreigners alike, it has also garnered an audience in the foreign television and film industry as well as toy, game and software developers. The convention hosts various performances, interviews, and anime-related events like workshops and seminars. People also flock to this attraction in search of authentic anime merchandise. This year the event is scheduled to be held from March 26th to 27th.

Cosplaying, another performance art, was first seeded by the existence of anime. It refers to people (may also be called cosplayers) dressing up and even roleplaying at times as their favourite character from a particular anime. Many fans of popular anime take pride in cosplaying as their favourite characters, whether for an anime convention, a show, or merely an outlet to destress. Perhaps the most recent notable moment in popular culture where the influence of anime was truly realised was when an Olympics presenter cosplayed as Naruto’s Jiraiya during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There are even cosplay cafes and restaurants all over Japan that have become prominent must-sees for tourists visiting the country. Among these types of cafes are maid and butler cafes where the staff are dressed as maids or butlers inspired by anime fashion and style. Even the interior of these restaurants is made to look aesthetically pleasing, like you’ve just entered an anime yourself. These joints are now a staple subculture of anime due to their rapid popularity. 

It’s quite clear that anime has held a strong influence on many things people consider Japanese culture, and have now adopted as their own hobbies as well. Safe to say that one cannot separate the art of anime from Japan as the two are interrelated. 

What To Watch?

If you enjoy action, adventure and fast-paced plots, you will resonate with the most popular genre of anime: shounen. These types of anime usually centre around a male lead embarking on a journey that might change his life. Despite being aimed at their demographic of boys between ages 12 and 18, shounen manga and anime have become a hot topic among a wide range of audiences throughout the years. This is mainly because it doesn’t shy away from creating relatable characters with complex dynamics alongside the main action-packed plot. Shounen anime in recent years have proven to reject the typical stereotype of overtly masculine and shallow characters whose sole purpose is to be a mere face in an average adventure-type show. Instead, each hero is unique in personality with their own set of flaws and demons to battle along with the main challenge of the plot. 

Here are the writers’ top 3 picks of the latest and trendiest animes of late:

Jujutsu Kaisen

The first anime that comes into mind when speaking of battling mythical creatures with exhilarating fight scenes would be Jujutsu Kaisen. Centering around a teenage boy who swallowed a cursed finger( yes, you heard it right; a finger), and is thrown into a world filled with cursed spirits and pretty blue-eyed sorcerers; Jujutsu Kaisen, has dominated the whole shonen universe for the past two years. Initially, Jujutsu Kaisen was serialised as a manga in the Weekly Shonen Jump back in March 2018. The manga was written and illustrated by Gege Akutami and later on released as a series with 24 episodes in October 2020. A point to take note in Jujutsu Kaisen would be that, Gege Akutami portrays his female characters to be strong, independent and complex unlike the usual damsels in distress.

Women standing up for themselves

The latest addition to the series came in the form of a movie adaptation of the manga prequel to the series: Jujutsu Kaisen 0. It was released on February 5th, 2022 in Japan and March 10th, 2022 here in Malaysia. For those who appreciate plots with many teary smiles and heartbreaking moments, then this is definitely the anime to watch. 

Demon Slayer

Demon Slayer is probably the most recent anime film that managed to break the record set by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The movie, titled Demon Slayer: Mugen Train dethroned the long-standing record holder, Spirited Away, to become the highest-grossing anime film worldwide with $440.15 million box office records. The manga, completed in May 2020, was adapted into an anime series back in 2019 spanning 26 episodes with lively animation. Following the series, as mentioned earlier, a sequel movie was released, and this year, the second season, “Entertainment District Arc” completed its serialisation early this year.

If the anime had a theme, it would be familial love. When his sister is turned into a demon, Kamado Tanjro does all that he can to protect her and find a way to turn her back to a human. In short, the anime is very touching and focuses on how love, and not in the sense of romance, but as friends, sister and comrades motivates one to strive for better. The characters are written well with each having interesting personalities that attracts the viewers. Sword fighting scenes in Demon Slayer are absolutely breathtaking, with the visuals taken a notch higher than your usual anime. If you enjoy deep, moving relationships and wonderfully orchestrated fighting scenes try checking it out on Netflix.

Attack On Titan 

War, generational trauma, and prejudice. These are just a few of the many themes and complex ideas that have been woven into the magnificent brainchild of Hajime Isayama, the creator of Attack on Titan. His first and most successful manga series, now turned into an anime, became the best-selling manga series of all time with over a 100 million copies sold. The anime itself, Attack on Titan, was first broadcasted in April 2013 and has since followed with 4 seasons (season 1, 2, 3 part 1 and 2, and 4 part 1 and 2), one live-action Japanese film in 2015 and about a dozen OVAs (original video animation) featuring the backstories of a few key supporting characters. 

It’s set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by massive walls to protect them from the terror of man-eating giants referred to as ‘Titans’. The story follows a boy, Eren Yeager, who has made it his life’s goal to exterminate the Titans after they destroy his hometown and cause the death of his mother. His epic journey throughout the four seasons from an idealistic, ambitious hero to a tragic martyrdom has amassed fans worldwide in praise of Isayama’s complex plot and characters. 

The very essence of Attack on Titan is how vast the plot has become from what fans from the beginning were shown at the very first episode. Filled with easter eggs, foreshadowing, and plenty of gore, each episode has effectively secured the excitement of fans for years with Attack on Titan the Final Season Part 2 only showing this year after 9 years from the airing of the first season. If you enjoy gore, action and high fantasy,  buckle up for this dark, fast-paced emotional whirlwind and catch all four seasons and OVAs on Netflix. 

In a nutshell, anime is so much more than just some fad with an over enthusiastic, or as some might ignorantly put it, “crazy” fanbase. In fact, it has proven to bring much colour and wonder into Japanese culture which we so casually adopt as our own in some aspects without truly appreciating the full story behind it. So here’s your green light: release the fear of otaku stereotypes some may project on you. Appreciate the art and be as immersed and involved as you please. Go ahead and embrace the anime mania. 

By Poorani and Hannah Rahel

Edited by Maki

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