I Hate Anime

I have a confession to make, and it’s one that might not be very popular among readers and writers of movie blogs. But I’ve never shied away from making unpopular statements, and this is something I feel I should get off my chest, if for no other reason than intellectual honesty, and the integrity of the blog. You see, I hate anime. I’ve tried to be open-minded about it, tried to be tolerant. But I hate it. It’s like fingernails on a blackboard. It makes my skin crawl. I suppose it could partly be an age thing — I’m old enough to remember when anime was so uncommon in the United States that any instance of it stood out like a sore thumb. Now it’s everywhere, and still seems to be growing every day. And I, for one, can’t stand it. Try as I might to see things other peoples’ way, I just plain hate anime.

I don’t have anything against Japanese animation, mind you.

You can put down the weapons; I’ll explain.

No, I don’t hate Japanese cartoon series, or Japanese animated features. I’m not a big aficionado, admittedly; my viewing has been fairly limited. But I’ve seen a few things here and there, and most of it has been all right. Like most children of the 80s, I grew up with the cartoons re-dubbed into English that were Robotech, Voltron, and Battle of the Planets. We never thought of them as being Japanese cartoons at the time, of course; they were just cartoons. As an adult I encountered Dragon Ball Z, and that was just plain stupid, but I’ve also caught a few episodes of Lupin the Third and they were fairly entertaining. A friend showed me Akira one day when I was visiting at his house; it was all right, if a little incoherent in places. I do think most of its vaunted reputation simply comes from being one of the first Japanese animated features to draw notice in the U.S. — I remember ads for it in the late 80s and early 90s, back when the term “Japanimation” was still in vogue — but I’ve sometimes had a dissonant reaction to films from other genres and media as well; nothing to do with it being Japanese animation. I watched Princess Mononoke in the theatre, and it was pretty good, and I’ve seen Cowboy Bebop: The Movie on television and if a few things were excised (such as the weird kid character) it would be an all right film. I may not seek out Japanese animation, but I don’t avoid it either. I treat it like anything else; if the premise sounds interesting, I watch it. Otherwise, I don’t. No, I don’t hate Japanese animation.

Am I backpedaling? No, actually.

What I hate is “anime”. The word; or more precisely, the attitude that so often accompanies it. Now, I know that loan words are nothing new in English; probably 90% of the language or greater is borrowed from some other language if you trace the etymology back far enough. But in the case of “anime” there is something more than a little peculiar going on, and more than a trifle repugnant to me, and it comes into play with the insistence on not just using the term, but on trying to “correct” people who don’t. If you’re not sure what I mean, just stop using the term for a while. Call them cartoons. Sooner or later — and it’ll probably be sooner, at least if you go anywhere there are fans — you’ll be “corrected”. There are people who will tell you, very seriously and often very loudly, that Akira is “not a cartoon”. It’s drawn and animated, but it’s “not a cartoon, it’s an anime”. The very use of the word cartoon for Akira or any other work of Japanese animation is reacted to as if it were an offensive statement.

Chernabog objects to the word “cartoon” being treated as a pejorative.

It’s the old tired saw about cartoons being for kids. Except they never have been. The creators of Looney Tunes openly stated that the audience they were most seeking to entertain wasn’t kids or adults, but themselves. Walt Disney didn’t insist on an age limit on people watching Mickey Mouse, and people of all ages went to watch. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film, was meant for all ages, and appreciated by all ages. But I suppose some could say it’s not particularly intellectual. That argument doesn’t hold up for long, though. Fantasia, Disney’s third animated film (and as far as I can tell, the fourth animated film from any studio) was as high-brow as any live-action film has ever been. If there was ever a time in which cartoon movies were just for kids, that time officially ended in 1940. It’s been more than 70 years, I think we can admit cartoons can be serious and thought-provoking. But one of the arguments I keep hearing from people who praise anime over western animation is that western animation is always strictly for kids, or at least is family-oriented, and never just for adults. To which I can only say, these people have clearly never heard of Ralph Bakshi.

American Pop is about sex, drugs, and rock and roll… and is tame compared to Heavy Metal.

Of course, the question of what age group a film is appropriate for is separate from the question of quality. But the most hardcore fans of anime seem to have a problem acknowledging quality from non-Japanese animation as well. Western animation is often judged by its lowest denominators, such as the many cheaply-produced Hanna-Barbera series (as though limited animation and stock footage were never used by any Japanese series; come on, I already said I grew up with Voltron….) But even if we put aside border-blenders such as Transformers (animated in the U.S., inspired by Japanese toys) and ThunderCats (animated in Japan based on U.S. designs), there are still quality works in both television and film. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini had multiple years of success adapting DC Comics properties to television, and it’s not just because people like Batman; the series were genuinely that good. And Disney and Don Bluth both have had several major films that were high quality; Dreamworks had a few as well before their turn to 3D animation. (For some reason even those who have the strongest bias against western animation seem to limit it to traditional animation… though even then I’ve noticed a tendency to just call Pixar films “Pixar films” instead of using the “c word”.)

2D or 3D, it’s still a cartoon, and no less beautiful for it.

Mind you, mentioning Disney can be hazardous in this company as well. Sooner or later someone will bring up The Lion King, and act outraged that there’s a resemblance to Kimba the White Lion. It still winds up feeling like there’s a refusal to acknowledge quality in a western work — or at least, if acknowledged, it’s attributed to stealing from a Japanese work. But Osamu Tezuka, creator of Kimba, credited as his inspiration works of western animation, including Betty Boop cartoons, Mickey Mouse, and Bambi. So those who deride The Lion King for being unoriginal are essentially complaining that Simba, a lion drawn in the traditional Disney style, looks like Kimba, a lion drawn in a style directly inspired by the traditional Disney style. Shocking. Other similarities in aesthetics can usually be attributed to the same, or to the limitations of keeping to (mostly) appropriate wildlife for Africa, and standard animation and storytelling tropes. Are there similarities? Yes. But nothing that warrants denying that The Lion King is a great film.

And story-wise, it’s essentially Hamlet with a happy ending. Yes, really.

But perhaps the most pernicious thing about the people who insist on “anime” over “cartoon” is how singular the focus is. It’s always the works of Japan, and never any other culture. (Though when it comes to comic books, the use of “manga” for Japanese comics is mirrored with “manwha” for Korean ones. But even then they don’t do the same for other cultures; Asterix is never called a “livre comique”, for example.) If this were being done by the Japanese themselves, it would smell of racism, but every indication I have is that in Japan the term anime is simply used as the literal term it is, and is applied to works from all nations — and western animation has a non-trivial following over there. But for all their insistence that anime must be separated from “cartoons”, westerners who have fallen in love with the medium seem curiously reluctant to do the same with animation from other cultures. Why is it that when discussing an animated feature from Japan, we’re supposed to use the Japanese word for animation, but when discussing one from France, we don’t use the French word? That word, incidentally, is animé, which just goes to show how quickly the situation would become silly. But when I’ve brought this up in the past, I’ve been told, in all apparent seriousness, that the French haven’t contributed anything significant to animation. Sylvain Chomet has released two feature films since the Academy Awards have had a Best Animated Feature category — 2003’s The Triplets of Belleville and 2010’s The Illusionist — and both were nominated for the award (and even after seeing Finding Nemo, I’m still half-inclined to think Belleville should have won.) Both are great films, and I find it difficult to believe that they represent the sole examples of quality French animation — and I find it more difficult to believe that someone can dismiss the entire culture’s work out of hand despite prominent examples.

Fittingly, The Illuionist is largely about overlooked artistry.

Two other animé, if you’ll pardon my French, have also been Best Animated Feature nominees: Persepolis (2007), and A Cat in Paris (2010). At the moment, animé outnumbers anime in the category 4 to 2 (though Spirited Away, unlike the various French nominees, actually won.) Last year, a Spanish animated feature, Chico & Rita was among the nominees. I don’t recall anybody trying to separate it from cartoons by giving it a different terminology. For the 2009 Academy Awards, one of the nominees was the Irish film The Secret of Kells, and its creators certainly have no qualms about it being called a cartoon — their film studio is named Cartoon Saloon.

I don’t have to call this a beochan to appreciate its beauty.

That’s what I really don’t get about those who insist on the term “anime” for Japanese animation. It’s not applied anywhere else, and I can’t see any reason for this most artificial of separations. It’s not a division of audience; some works on each side are meant for children and some for adults. It’s not a division of quality; there’s good and bad in everything. It can’t even be said to be a division based on style, since there are multiple styles of animation in any country’s works, including Japan. It’s just a division for the sake of having a division, a way to say Japanese animation is somehow more special than the rest. But it isn’t. It is special, yes, but only to the same extent as works from France, or Spain, or, yes, the United States. I don’t see any reason to elevate or lower a work based on what country it’s from, and so I’m not going to. I won’t avoid Japanese animation should I see one with an intriguing premise, and I’m not going to watch an animated film just because it’s Japanese. And when I do watch one, I’m not going to refrain from calling it a cartoon, either. Because that’s what it all is; there is nothing pejorative about cartoon, it’s just an English-language synonym for animation (or for comics, but I digress.) It’s all worthy or unworthy of praise based on its own merits, and not what it’s called.

And Akira is still a somewhat overrated cartoon.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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45 Responses to I Hate Anime

  1. Max says:

    I’m going to say the reason why I like the term anime is because it separates the mediocrity of the American cartoon and the Japanese. I believe that “cartoons” are still seen as something that only kids can watch and if your watching “cartoons” into your 30’s there’s something inherently wrong with you. I’m a huge fan of anime whether it be TV series or films or even comic books (known as Manga). It’s okay for it to have that name because there are distinctions in how the characters are drawn as opposed to those drawn in the Western hemisphere. If I go up to someone and tell someone I watch cartoons I’m sure I’ll get into a huge argument about why these particular shows could never be shown to kids and thus I’m okay with still enjoying them. It’s a tricky idea, but there needs to be a dilatation between cartoons and anime, if only for the sanctity of the American fans who enjoy them.

    • But what is the mediocrity of the American Cartoon? Are we just talking Hanna- Barbara or everything? Is “Astro Boy” that much better than “The Flinstones” or “Tom & Jerry”, or is just different?

      I’ve seen recent “Anime” television series–not many–and they are not all great.

      I may be ignorant of them, but where is their humor? Are there any comedic Animes? I’ll take Bugs Bunny, Heckle & Jeckle, Tom & Jerry any day over Dragon Ball-Z–which is a cartoon.

      • Thanks, Victor. Obviously I agree that the Japanese works aren’t better than American ones, or more mature, just different.

        I’m sure there are humorous Japanese cartoons out there, but I’m not aware of any personally, at least not pure Heckle and Jeckle style humor. Though Lupin the Third has humorous elements in it from the episodes I saw.

      • Max says:

        There’s plenty of comedies in the Anime genre.

        Hayate the Combat Butler, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, Ouran High School Host Club, Toradora. Those are just some of the very best. There’s countless more [http://anime.osiristeam.net/thoughts/top-10-funniest-anime/].

        Although I love myself some Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy, let’s face it, the stories just aren’t that deep. When was the last time you saw characters die in American cartoons? Or have a stories that rival their inspiration (Eden of the East). There’s just no comparison.

        • There are a couple flaws in that assertion. First is the assumption that depth is necessary for quality; true, Looney Tunes aren’t deep, but neither are most live-action comedies. Second, death doesn’t equal depth. As for the last time I saw it, it actually happens a fair amount, especially in the films, but also in the series. Wasn’t uncommon for it to at least be implied in the DCAU. Most American action-adventure cartoons nowadays are willing to do it. Even in the 80s, Bravestarr had the guts to kill off a kid from a drug overdose, among various other deaths in the series. I could go on, but the assertion that American cartoons don’t kill characters is simply false.

          As for stories that rival their inspiration, I’m not sure what you mean here at all. I’ve never heard of Eden of the East, so I don’t know what inspired it, nor how it compares.

    • I don’t feel that it does separate the mediocrity of American cartoons and Japanese though… there are American cartoons which aren’t mediocre, and there are Japanese which are. As for differences in drawing, there are several American styles and several Japanese ones… to say nothing of the recent American trend of drawing in a Japanese style.

      I get what you’re saying about the perception in America regarding cartoons being watched by adults, but insisting on a differentiation because of that isn’t fighting that perception, it’s bowing to it. I’d rather oppose the whole concept than just try and carve out a small and arbitrary corner, saying “OK, cartoons are just for kids, but this one country’s aren’t”, when the reality is that neither western animation nor Japanese animation are universally for one age group.

      • Max says:

        Try explaining that to the masses. I don’t think animation in general will ever fall into one genre. Do you consider Finding Nemo a cartoon? Or is a CGI cinematic experience? I’m sorry but when you define things with the word cartoon there’s a level of perception still attached to the word that means “for children”. Sure it may be bowing down to the masses, but I enjoy my niche and would like it to stand as a quality above the norm.

        • No, animation will never fall into just one genre… that’s my point. To stop treating the medium as a one-genre (for children) thing “except anime”. Yes, I consider Finding Nemo a cartoon, as I stated. I could call it a “CGI cinematic experience”, sure, but why bother with the pretension?

          Yes, there’s that “for kids” perception with “cartoon”. But when you call things “anime” you don’t change that… not even for your niche, which doesn’t stand as a quality above the norm in the eyes of the masses. “Cartoons aren’t just for kids” is a much more convincing argument to most people than “Cartoons are for kids, but Japanese cartoons aren’t.” Because that’s what it sounds like to most people… anime is just “Japanese cartoons”, and no amount of arguing is going to change that in the eyes of people who think cartoons are just for kids.

          The biggest change the “anime” label has achieved outside the niche is that people have amended it to “Cartoons are for kids, Japanese cartoons are for perverts.” That’s what you’re going along with.

  2. I like your points regarding the use of the term Anime.

    I typically use either cartoon, for kids, or animated, for teens and up. Like you I am a child of the 80s and grew up with Starblazers, Voltron, and Robotech and viewed them only as cartoons and not Anime. The first thing I watched knowingly as Anime was “Akira”. I have watched a few episodes of Dragon Ball-Z and have no problem calling it a cartoon, and the same would apply to “Spirited Away”.

    This is a similar argument to comic book and graphic novel. In the past I would be one of those people that would aggressively explain the difference between the two. Now I don’t. The reality is arguably two of the top five graphic novels–The Watchman and The Dark Night–started their lives as multi-issue comic book runs; the same for The Sandman series.

    • Yes, the “graphic novel” label comes about from much the same reason. Comics are perceived as being “for kids”, so self-conscious adults reading them decided to start calling some of them “graphic novels” in a futile attempt to change the perception. Hasn’t worked, so far as I’ve been able to tell.

      Me, I just use the term “graphic novel” as a synonym for “long form comic book”.

  3. osagejake says:

    I think we need to have an all Anime Bon Fire worldwide. Seriously, Anime is a a plague, and it’s high time we acknowledged this and took the steps to eradicate it. –You ‘re Welcome.

    • Harsh. But since I know you’ve been subjected to Dragon Ball Z by the kid for a while now, I can definitely understand where you’re coming from. Very much of that would make just about anybody want to burn the world.

  4. pgcooper1939 says:

    I agree with your judgement on the term anime…but I don’t agree with you calling Akira overrated.

    Very well-written piece.

    • Yeah, I knew the Akira comment would raise a little disagreement all on its own. 😀 But you know, different strokes for different folks, and all that. Any film I consider overrated is, by definition, in good company.

  5. You did not just dis Dragon Ball Z!

  6. Great post, man! I thouroughly agree with your analysis. The only difference is that I do hate Japanese animation. I can’t stand it, it gets on my nerves. It’s one of few things with the ability to turn me into a full-on hater. I LOATHE it. Hate the style, hate the voices, hate its quirks, most of its fans. I avoid it like the plague. I try to be tolerant in every aspect but not with this. Sorry for the rant, hahah.

  7. spikor says:

    So much win here, Morgan. So much win.

    I still like to use the term Japanimation. And for stuff from Acadian New Brunswick, Quebec or France, I usually used Françaimation (Frohn-say-mah-shon), it really sounds obnoxious out loud, coming from an anglophone, and brings home the point of how seriously some people like to take this topic.

    Obviously, I take a bunch of things too seriously too… even some Anime. I can’t watch Ruruouni Kenshin dubbed. It hurts my brain. But I find it absolutely hilarious to see/hear how seriously so many otakus lose their shit over japanimation not being taken seriously enough by other people. Half of the series and movies they’re in love with really are “Japanese Cartoons”, in that they were made for and marketed towards Japanese kids, not adults.

    And yes, Dragon Ball Z is terrible, that’s why it’s so much fun. I agree that Akira was overrated, though.

    Aside from the quality of animation and soundtrack, American Pop was horrible, though, in my opinion. Heavy Metal is horriblarious, though.

    • Thanks, Bruce. “Françaimation”. Love it. 😀

      Glad to have some support on Akira — I had a feeling that would be one of the more controversial statements in the piece, but I didn’t feel right not saying it.

      Too right about people demanding it be taken seriously sometimes overlooking the fact that what they’re praising as “adult” is just as often made for kids as the western stuff.

      I liked American Pop, but I easily see how it’s not for everyone. It’s kind of slow-paced, and it’s a generational drama, which is a highly irregular genre for animation. But even if you don’t like it, it’s still worth citing as an example of western animation that isn’t just for kids and isn’t comedy, right?

      And yes, “horriblarious” is a good description of Heavy Metal… epitome of “so bad it’s good” there….

      • spikor says:

        American Pop is definitely worth the nod. It deserves to be watched on technical merits alone. The pacing was horrible, and I wasn’t into the story. I loved the idea of it, but the execution failed on every level other than the music and visuals.

        I had also wanted to mention, in regards to Françaimation, “La Planete Sauvage” (“Fantastic Planet” is the english title) is, in my opinion, a must watch for anyone that’s a fan of both animation and Science Fiction. In one way, it’s a lot like Akira (slow paced on the whole, sometimes makes no sense, trips balls throughout), but the experience of watching it is unique. Overall the story is solid, and there are things in there you never forget watching.

        • OK, I’ll jot that down on my list. I haven’t heard of it before, so I appreciate the heads-up. I take it there’s an English sub or dub available (I don’t speak French….)

        • spikor says:

          I’ve seen an English dub, and an English dub with English subtitles. Both on VHS. The latter seemed pretty redundant to me. heh.

          I know I’ve seen the DVD somewhere before, but I have no idea if it was dubbed, subbed or dubsubbed. It’s usually in a bargain bin if you find it in a big box retailer. If you find it in a smaller shop the price is usually through the roof.

          No idea if it’s available on any streaming sources. I’m pretty sure you’re anti-torrent, but non-restored versions of the film are actually public domain, if that factors into your thought process at all.

        • Interesting… if I can get a decent translated version that’s public domain, that might be the way to go.

  8. Bubbawheat says:

    I appreciate the article, even if I don’t entirely agree with the attention-grabbing headline. I’m a fan of anime, though not an otaku. I generally refer to it as Japanese Animation, and I generally refer to all of it as just “animation”. I’m also a big fan of any well done animation, whether it’s American, Irish, French, or Japanese, though I admittedly haven’t seen any of the more well known non-American/Japanese ones aside from Secret of Kells.

    I completely agree with disliking the attitude of an anime “Otaku” who might deride anyone who utters the phrase “cartoon”. But I disagree with anyone who calls animation or anime a genre. Most anime has a certain style to it, but anime comes in any and every genre, from frenetic kids movies, to romantic comedies, to deep sci-fi, to shallow sci-fi, to porn, as well as anything else you can think of.

    • I’ll admit to having had some qualms about the rather trollish headline and opening paragraph. But I couldn’t figure out a neutral (and clear) way to title things, so I decided to just run with it. I’ll grant it was a bit gauche, though.

      My viewing experience is missing more than a few of the big foreign animated films as well. But I can wholeheartedly recommend the works of Sylvain Chomet; The Illusionist is a very touching film, and The Triplets of Belleville had my whole family in pain from laughter.

      Absolutely right about animation not being a genre. It’s a medium, and any genre can be (and is) represented, in both western and Japanese animation.

      • Max says:

        But you’ve brought out the haters of the genre with this post, not just people who dislike the connotation. That’s a shame because that equivalent of damnation upon the entirety of the media. There’s a lot of inspiration in Western animation thanks to their Eastern contemporaries and no matter what the world is better for it existing in the first place.

        • Except I haven’t brought out the haters; only two people, who have both commented on other posts of mine in the past, have expressed a dislike for Japanese animation as a whole. Everybody else has expressed some degree of support for it.

          What does bring out haters is the artificial divide. Nobody would hate “anime” if there wasn’t a sense that it was a different medium than western animation. Which is to say, the insistence on holding it as a thing separate and unto itself is what is responsible for any backlash. This is furthered when fans of anime insist that western animation doesn’t compare, that it lacks depth or isn’t inspiring.

          When it comes to the haters, you’re fighting a problem of your own making, Max.

        • impsndcnma says:

          Well at least we had a good conversation about it.

        • There is that, definitely. And hey, if you want to recommend any good Japanese animated films for me to check out, feel free. I don’t know when I’ll get to them (I tend to take films as they become available, and October’s usually full of horror films for me), but I’ll certainly keep any suggestions in mind.

  9. Fantastic article, sir. Suffice to say, I share your views on this topic nearly 100%.

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