I read the post “Anime Encourages Murder” on Blogs for Brownback (B4B) yesterday, Manila time, and I’m joining the chorus of persons who consider it one-sided and uninformed. To those who haven’t read it–you can find it here–, it says, in sum, that anime is an art medium characterized by graphic sexual and violent images; that it is spread through illegal means by an “underground distribution network”; and that it leads to violent behavior on the part of its aficionados or otakus. Now, what was wrong with this conclusion was, simply, that it is based on an overly limited sampling of anime, as well as a misunderstanding of its nature as an art form.
For what, indeed, is anime? It’s not enough to say that it is “Japanese animation”, as the term ‘anime‘ also implicates matters of visual composition, narrative style, and, most of all, content. For instance, anime series and OAVs (or movies) more frequently attempt at rich painting-like imagery than do the more realistic films of the West, in which the cinematography of What Dreams May Come and The Fountain is considered very unusual. Also, anime titles more often use non-linear plots, as well as frozen instants dedicated to the contemplation of some character or a part of the environment, sometimes by presenting a mandala of perspectives–which, in Western movies, usually happens only when a lead character is dying. Formally, therefore, anime differs from Western film media, whether live-action or animation, by the greater scope of its stylistic variety.
As to content, anime is also distinctive for its wider range of, and approaches to, subjects, which allows it to have a bewildering array of sub-genres from fantasy and science fiction to realism and naturalism (in the Dreiser sense). Thus we have titles using Cabbalistic imagery like Evangelion, or a hodgepodge of martial arts concepts as does Naruto. An anime fan might watch an environmentalist fantasy like Nausicaa, a romantic police comedy like You’re Under Arrest, or a scifi-punk movie like Akira with its violent mixture of evolutionary optimism and social pessimism; or prefer more “kiddie” fare like Astroboy and any number of martial-arts cooking series (yes, they exist). In short, anime, though it is animation, has a range of subjects as extensive as, or even more varied than, that of live-action films in the West, a fact incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with Japanese pop culture.
It was therefore wrong for B4B to treat hentai and ecchi as generally representative of anime, when these constitute just a small subset of anime, with ecchi being the equivalent of soft porn in live-action movies and hentai comprehending everything from hard porn to “snuff” videos. One cannot deny that these are morally contemptible and even socially harmful–their frequent use of “fan service”, for one, is a sad example of how some anime titles objectify women–, but to say that anime as a genus leads to violent or even psychopathic behavior is much like saying that movies trigger violent behavior. It may be true of some movies, but would we include Sound of Music, Grand Illusion, Diary of a Country Priest, or High School Musical in that judgment?
I think the reason the author of the B4B post misjudged anime so badly was that he/she was judging it as animation from a Western perspective, rather than as a distinct genus of film art. Western animation, after all, is dominated by the child-oriented approach of Disney; and hyperrealist titles like Aeon Flux remain relative aberrations even after the rise of action realism with Bruce Timm’s Batman, which still avoids graphic imagery. Hence, one who grew up on Disney and Hanna-Barbera would be understandably disturbed upon watching the relatively-harmless Ranma with its anatomical emphases, to say nothing of “tentacle anime“, and might not go beyond them at all. Perhaps if the post author were familiar with Western comics (which includes “safe” fare like Archie and Asterix, “serious” series like X-Men and Batman, and” adult” titles like Sandman and 300, and is therefore as multidimensional as Japanese manga), he/she would have understood anime better.
To the people at B4B, therefore: Please correct the post on anime. If it’s a joke, then it’s a sad one; and if it’s serious, then “methinks thou art sadder still.” I share B4B’s desire to protect human life and promote Judaeo-Christian values, though I do wish it emulated Pope John Paul II in giving equal emphasis to social justice; but these ends will not be promoted by misunderstanding social phenomena like anime, or by making a reductionist reference to the moral effect of Buddhism and Shintoism on Asians–which statement, whatever its correctness or incorrectness, should not have been made without some attempt at careful and nuanced analysis (and I speak here as a conservative Asian Christian). B4B is right about the need for God, and its passionate advocacy is admirable; but even zeal is nothing without wisdom; and as God is Truth, He will be better served by truth.