Personal Column: Anime ≠ Geekiness

May 20, 2008 — by Melody Zhang

I have a love-hate relationship with anime. I binge-watch anime, Japanese animation, to the point where I can consume a 30 episode series in a week – that’s about 20 hours of TV – and then spend the next three days in withdrawal, moping.

It’s hard for some people to understand this addiction. People eye me strangely when I rant about the amazing time I had at Fanime, a huge anime convention 10 months ago, and just muttering the word “cosplay” causes many to shudder in fright at the thought of massive groups of people dressed as the same character from a favorite show. And it’s because of these kinds of reactions that so many people, like myself, stay closet anime fans.

The first time I had ever heard of anime was in middle school when my friend introduced me to it. I started by reading the limited supply of manga, Japanese comic books, in the Redwood Middle School library, and watching a few anime series online, but I never really caught on to my love for anime until high school. In the past three years, I’ve met people at school who share my interests, but, like me, rarely openly discuss anything anime/manga-related for fear of being judged.

I’ve pondered people’s hate of anime and other related forms of media and have been able to come up with only one reason for it: They don’t know what it is and therefore they feel prejudiced against it. Consequently, an increasing number of people keep their love a secret except for fellow hardcore “otakus,” who continue to scare anime-haters with their obsession.

The stereotypical “otaku” will sit in front of his or her computer watching anime for hours, shunning all social contact, mostly taking breaks to catch up on some manga. But what he is really watching is greatly different from what many assume anime to be.

Anime is often viewed as a childish form of media full of unrealistic squeaky-voiced, scantily-clad girls and lame plots of fluff. If not stereotyped as a show seen on Cartoon Network (think Dragon Ball Z), it’s assumed to be a more inappropriate version of something like Pokémon. But the truth is, anime can be similar to what is shown on TV or in the theaters.

Take Asian dramas, for example. The majority of successful ones, such as Goong or the latest craze, It Started with a Kiss, are based off of Japanese comic books. Yet it’s more socially acceptable to stay up until three in the morning watching dramas than the animated versions of the same stories. In the end, these types of movie shows, including American televised series, end up wasting the same amount of time.

Personally, I have found that anime can often hold even deeper plots than live-action filmed movies, perhaps due to the freedom animation gives the director. Hollywood, on the other hand, recently seems to be making fewer “good” movies, only relying on comedy to entertain the audience.

It is common, too, for anime to explore various themes and social issues. The extremely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion explores inhumanity and religion through a war between Earthlings and aliens known as “Angels.” The series’ psychological depth continues to grow until the very end. The depth of the show parallels that of the dark Hollywood hit Donnie Darko. What is often seen in anime is highly applauded in American television.

Voted by Time magazine as one of the most influential Asians of the past 60 years, anime film director Hayao Miyazaki (producer of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away among other hit films) has been enjoying success for the past few decades with his thought-provoking films. His themes include environmentalism, war and even politics, but are displayed in such a way that even young children have greatly welcomed his works.

Anime often enjoys the success it does by appealing to a wider demographic than most western films and series do. But as a result, people often call it childish and immature, never giving it the chance to prove its worth. Although anime hasn’t necessarily made a complete 360 degree change in my way of thinking, it’s extremely refreshing to watch the intricate plots and complex characters develop in ways that Hollywood rarely ever attempts. Despite the often unrealistic plots, the characters feel extremely real and deal with situations in ways that aren’t far-fetched.

My obsession with anime has opened me to the entire culture supporting it. Last year was my first time attending an anime convention where I took a job as staff on the registration department. This year’s Fanime is the first time I have ever cosplayed. My MP3 player is filled with soundtracks from various shows. I’ve even started watching some Asian dramas based on animes I’ve watched.

So I’m not ashamed of loving anime. It helps take my mind off the stressful life of being a high school student and I can confidently say that I’m not a study-a-holic. Which is a good thing … right?

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