Why We Watch Anime, Part One: Creativity

So Why Do People Watch Anime?

This is a question posed to me by Andre Klein, the guy who owns the server this blog runs on and the man behind Learn Out Live. A German national, he has a family member who’s into anime, over in Germany. Clearly people watch from all over the world but, why is that?

Well, I think the first answer is, quite simply, creativity.

Generally, the first thing that strikes a person is the following effect: you are instantly transported into another world. That world may resemble the one we normally live in, and certainly resembles it more if we relate to things Japanese people regard as “normal” (such as their high school life, which is frequently portrayed in anime, even for shows watched by young adults), but creativity defines the medium.

Anime is an extremely competitive business. Anime, and its manga and novel roots as well, must fight through quite a bit of hurdles to reach the screen. More to the point, the mature, competitive Japanese anime industry demands the appearance of uniqueness to compete for fan attention.

When jaded fans look at a show with wildly different characters, setting, backgrounds, and plotlines, and they say, “Oh, that’s just like Love Hina,” they are demonstrating the sky-high expectations fans have. Granted, genres exist, and shows in genres can resemble each other quite a bit in certain respects, but we’re still drawing parallels between the upper floors of tall towers of creativity.

To compare, the Korean domestic anime and video game industry is renowned for exceptional artwork that really tends to impress at first glance. Yet, Korean domestic video games and anime tend to be systematically lacking in creativity and plot depth. This is not to criticize any particular person, and again, the size and depth of the industry in Japan is simply on a different scale and influences the outcome. Even so, when averaging out, the Korean industries simply do not match the Japanese industries in terms of creativity and plot.

As such, a lot of very nice productions have occurred as a result of collaboration between Japanese authors and producers (and voice actors, or seiyuu) and Korean animation studios.

The point being, creativity is where it starts. Creativity is what made the first anime – which used knock-off, Disney inspired drawing techniques – gripping enough to viewers to catch on.

Comparisons To “Live Action”

Live action – as in, what passes for normal TV drama and film – is a different animal. In certain senses, it has a much easier task; we relate well to fellow human beings. It is to compensate for this that anime uses the freedom of the drawn cel to engage in things like cartoon slapstick humor at a moment’s notice, or using exaggerated, manga-style effects to show us how a particular character is annoyed.

Furthermore, as a result of the sort of “special effects” required by even typical level anime, translating the spectacular content anime can use into something made for live action would be astonishingly expensive. It’d be Avatar level for your average TV drama. Japanese live action shows don’t do this, and neither would any Western shows, of course.

Having said this, I’m not really seeking to compare Japanese live action to US live action. Rather, it’s more like this:

Japanese anime tends to have much deeper plotlines and much more unique characters that American live action television and film, which gives the Western anime watcher something seemingly unique and radically different to work with.

So that is why, in simple terms, creativity in anime draws people away from live action Western content.

Now, the Japanese public has a large appetite for seeing American movie stars on the big screen, just like the rest of the world. The human factor is very compelling and important. Also, viewers get interested in what is not typical for them. There’s a lot of anime in Japan, but your Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie are just a slight bit more exotic to Japanese people than they are to Americans.

I say a slight bit more because, well, they’re not normal or typical for America, either. That would take all the fun out of it.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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2 Responses to Why We Watch Anime, Part One: Creativity

  1. Sarynn says:

    You just illustrated the reason why I love anime, right there. Its creativity takes me a whole different world that I can explore and enjoy, something that’s rarely pulled-off well here in the Western world. Don’t get me wrong, it exists… Lord of the Rings did a great job of making a whole new world, for example… and there are a handful of good American cartoons… but such creative productions are far and few between. When it comes to creativity, that’s what the Asian anime market is good at.

    Admittedly, I don’t always need that creativity. Many of America’s live-action shows and movies are top-notch entertainment! So I love both America and anime. =D

    Curious to see what Part 2 has to say…