When my daughter was in seventh grade, she came home with an odd book. For one, the title was "Marmalade Boy," which made absolutely no sense to me. For another, it was backward. She had to read it from back to front, or right to left, instead of our usual left to right.
I learned from her that this book was a Japanese Comic book, known here as a Manga. She really liked the story and kept bugging me for more of the books in the series. I happened to mention this to a good friend of mine during one of our girls' nights. Her eyes lit up and she said, "I have the whole anime on VHS, if you'd like to borrow it. It's in Japanese with subtitles." I knew this would blow my daughter's mind, so I agreed. Now, I'm the sort of mother that likes to know what her kids are into, so I decided to watch a bit of this series with my kids.
This was the beginning of my journey to fangirldom. However, it was far from my first exposure to Anime. According to my mother, I loved Speed Racer as a child. Speed Racer was the first Anime to come from Japan to America in the 1970's. It was followed by such series as Thundercats and Transformers. While I wasn't a Transformers fan, I loved Thundercats. At the time, I had no idea that these shows originated in Japan.
Later, I was again exposed to Japanese Animation through my children when Pokemon became all the rage. We used to watch it together in the mornings before school and work. When I was still in college, the kids and I used to attend the Pokemon nights at Burger King on Tuesdays. It worked out well, since I had a night class on Tuesdays. I thought it a bit silly, but it was time spent with the kids, right?
Well, Marmalade Boy was completely different. First of all, I knew it was Anime, or Japanese Animation. Secondly, it was in Japanese with English subtitles. Third, it was a cohesive, darn good story. The characters took on a reality that surprised me, since I never felt that way about Wile E. Coyote.
Marmalade Boy is geared to young girls. It is known as Shojo, the Japanese word for 'young lady' or 'young girl.' It is a sweet teen love story. The main characters of Miki and Yuu are adorable and funny. Their story is just compelling enough to keep even me watching.
After Marmalade Boy, my same friend offered to lend us a series more geared to my son's interests. This one was about a wandering swordsman who had sworn off killing. The story takes place during the Meiji Era of Japan's history, when their borders were only just opening to foreign trade. While the characters are fictional and some of their fighting moves unbelievable, the history is pretty accurate. The series was dubbed in English and released here as Samurai X, though it is known elsewhere as Rurouni Kenshin.
This series, geared to boys, is called Shounen.
I honestly did not expect to like an animated series about sword fighting. However, I was hooked almost immediately. Kenshin was a noble and compelling character. The ragtag group that became his family over the course of the series was endearing as well.
This was the series that turned me into a true fangirl. I scoured the internet for fanfiction. Fanfiction, if you don't know, is fiction about the story characters written by dedicated fans. Much of it is not very good, but some pieces are magnificent and make slogging through the dreck worth the time. After my fanfic glut, I also began coveting items that had Kenshin pictures on them. I now own a Kenshin action figure and pencil board. I would have posters and wall scrolls, too, but that might be a bit much.
Many different styles and types of anime are available today. A controversial type of anime that is extremely popular today is yaoi, or shounen ai. Yaoi anime or manga depicts love relationships between two boys. This genre is especially evident in fanfiction. Favorite pairings are a hot discussion topic on some of the fanfiction websites. If the love relationship is between two girls, the anime or manga is called yuri, or 'girl love'. These stories are seldom explicit and often very sweet.
Another element that is seen in anime is called 'fanservice.' This usually refers to a dream sequence or similar non-sequitur thrown in to make the fans of the show happy. In Kenshin, for instance, one episode features the female lead character, Karou, receiving an engagement ring from Kenshin. Of course, the whole thing is revealed to be a dream sequence at the end. But the fans apparently were keen to see a romantic love relationship between these two characters.
Today, in the U.S., the Anime fandom is still comparatively small, but growing. Entire stores are dedicated to Anime and Manga. Here in Memphis, Animax on Summer Avenue is just such a place. Most home electronics superstores carry a wide assortment of Anime DVDs, as do Netflix and Blockbuster.
So, what makes Anime different from good old American animation? A couple of things stand out for me. One is that the Japanese do not shy away from difficult subject matter. Nothing is candy coated. Death is death in all its painful glory. People hurt and use and love each other as they would in real life. Not all series have happy endings. Perhaps this, as much as anything, is what gives the sense of depth to the stories.
Another feature that sets Anime apart is the art. Most Anime is spare. Not an excess of detail. Often, not even an attempt to make the characters look fully human. A character's eyes might be beautifully detailed, but their nose little more than a checkmark shape in the middle of the face. Yet, even with such sparing detail, these characters can convey so much emotion.
The final aspect of Anime that sets it apart for me is that the writers of the series don't feel the need to spell out everything to the audience. Much is done by inference. Sometimes, even the endings have to be inferred. Not all the loose ends are tied up in a nice little bow. It's refreshing after a lifetime of happily ever after, to get an animated show with an ambiguous ending I can chew over for a while.
So, when you are looking for a change of pace and want something to watch, log onto Netflix or go to Blockbuster and ask for their Anime section. Check out Marmalade Boy or Rurouni Kenshin or even Sailor Moon and Dragonball. Rent a Miyazaki movie like Spirited Away and watch it in Japanese. If you don't like your first choice, try another. But keep an open mind and support Anime. Arigato Goziamasu.
-- Mary Klaebel
Find me at www.myspace.com/writergypsie
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