I know that some people will look at the title of this and go, “Um…kids’ shows? Like Pokemon? You have to be kidding me!” My answer to them is, “Most anime is not for children.” Let me explain.
True, the anime that we have on television in the U.S. is a series of children’s shows. However, many of them are seriously edited to take out the violence, bad language, and sexual references. Also, people think of anime as simply Pokemon-style stuff or porn. That would be like saying every book is a fairytale or it is erotica. It is inherently untrue. Anime is diverse. It is the overall name for an art form: Japanese animation shows and movies.
Often, anime makes a point about society today. It often comments on the family dynamic, crime, the media, religion, romance, sex, war, or the environment. The thing about anime is that a series can be either small at 1, 2, 3 or 13 episodes or 26, 32, or up to epic length. No matter what, anime is typically very tightly written. Are there exceptions? Of course. Are there shows that make no sense at all? Yes. Are there shows that last for hundreds of eipsodes and will bring a detail in from the 1st episode on the 347th episode? Yes.
What I find most compelling about anime in general is that it is often more in depth on the motivations of the characters. They are more psychological in their characterization, and as a result, their storylines and characters are more complex. In the U.S., often a good guy is simply a good guy and a bad guy is simply a bad guy. Typically in anime, we get the whys and the wherefores. Revealed throughout the show is the motivation that a character has to get better at whatever they are doing (whether it is good, evil, or something in-between). The pair of bad guys may be a fallen warrior and the abandoned orphan who found each other on a snowy night in the mountains. As a result, the fallen warrior is bitter and turns to crime and the adopted orphan feels needed and loved by the fallen warrior/father figure and so will do whatever they ask. Do you get my point? Even the bad guys are complex (though there are anime archetypes).
Unlike many shows these days in the United States, episodes within an arc are 1 story that has been broken up into multiple parts and arcs are related through character development and details that follow throughout the plot of the entire series. I think that many cartoons used to have this in the U.S. (I remember it from shows like Gargoyles when I was a kid) but the animation world in the United States seems to have forsaken complex storylines for several reasons: parents don’t like some of the content involved in characters growing up, they think that kids today have such short attention spans that they’ll never be able to focus on them, or they think that today’s child should not be exposed to death, violence, romance, sexual situations, etc. because the censors say so.
I know that my generation can be pretty screwy sometimes. Students in my grade going through school started our high school careers with Columbine and ended it with 9/11 in the U.S. There is a higher divorce rate amongst our parents and ourselves than in any previous generations. Marriage is seen as a “for now” proposition, not a “forever” proposition by many because their parents have been married 3-7 times. Maybe all of that is what makes me more interested in the psychology of the characters than I am in what they’re doing. Violence, death, blood, bad language, and sex are everywhere in today’s society. Anybody looked at a newsstand lately? What the censors are censoring, the kids already know. What is the point of taking a show that analyses life and all of life’s Big Questions and making it into the seriously edited, sugar-coated, kiddie shows that we get in the here and now in this country?
For example, a show that I saw a commercial for the other day was Naruto and it looked essentially like Pokemon but aged up a bit. I’ve seen the show in Japanese and the original deals with friendship, family, being an outsider, death, love, war, etc. I decided to watch a couple of episodes in English and was shocked to find a lack of the character development that I know is in the Japanese episodes. It seems to have been edited to being just a show about ninja going after each other and the majority of the violence was taken out so it’s become magic energy balls being hurled around. I mean, seriously? I don’t care if you want to cut out the violence, though I somewhat think that it takes the personal responsibility for the acts out of the show, but to change character development and such is ridiculous.
I’m aware that I’m ranting now so I’m going to step off the soap box and take a deep breath. Suffices to say that I prefer anime over many of today’s American cartoons because of the depth of characters and the breadth of topics covered. I am glad that when I started watching anime it was not available in the English dubbed versions because it allowed me to find shows that are more complex rather than less complex. Also, for the record, I tend to think that American voice actors tend to be a little more “fluffy” sounding, probably because they’re thinking of these shows as being made for kids, with a few exceptions for shows that were marketed strictly for older teens and adult (often they were shown unedited on the golden age of Adult Swim). As a result, I prefer the Japanese voice actors for anime or old school American voice actors who seemed to not fluff it up for the kiddies so much as they played the part just like they would if they were stage actors.
For those who really want to know the names of the major genres, I’m going to list the ones I can think of off the top of my head:
- anime of the game (when popular games are made into anime)
- gaming anime (focused on a game or sport which often lead to tournaments)
- bishoujo (fanservice shows about pretty girls)
- bishonen (these are the shows about androgenously beautiful boys–men tend to think they’re girlie and women tend to think they’re hott)
- hentai (straight up porn, this is the one Americans think of that really is a much smaller portion of anime than people realize.)
- yaoi (Boys’ Love: yes, this is a set of stories that focuses on romances between men)
- yuri (Girls’ Love: yes, now we’re talking lesbian romances)
- dating sims (based off of hentai-type or romantic-type games)
- ecchi (if the show is sexual in nature but not porn you’re probably watching this)
- magical girlfriend (adolescent boy wish fulfilment, the girlfriend is a goddess or magical in some way and the geeky guy gets the girl)
- shoujo (the pretty girl kicks major booty and deals with romance at the same time)
- unwanted harem (take the love triangle and multiply it. character A, B, C, D, and E are all in love with each other. character F might love someone but they’re not really sure. character G might love all of them but can’t commit to any of them for some reason. character H is in trouble with everyone because he stole everyone’s girl and is “so dreamy”. character I has no one that they love except for every third Tuesday after a blue moon when they say that they want to marry character F’s cousin’s best friend’s dog…you get the point, right? generally, a comedy)
Good vs. Evil
- fighting series (basic Good vs. Evil battle stories with a lot of fighting and training)
- girls with guns (strong women who shoot the bad guys or act as assassins, the girls are not always tiny and the guns are not always huge but it seems to be a common theme)
- mecha (my robot’s better than yours and i’m going to save the world/school/city/galaxy or my bike/car/plane/space craft/body armor is coller than yours–either way, cool characters doing cool things with cool toys)
- magical girl (the magical girl saves the day)
- mon (all about big bad monsters)
- sentai (superheroes, Japanese style)
- gag series (made to be funny, even if it doesn’t make sense in the plot–if there is a plot, think of shows like Family Guy where random jokes are inserted just because)
Demographics that include most genres
- josei (aimed specifically at young women of high school or college age)
- seinen (aimed specifically at young men of high school or college age)
- shonen (basically, seinen but for young boys)
- kaitou (mysterious/phantom thief–the daring criminal and borderline criminal acts of stylish gentlemen and lady thieves who announce their crimes in advance or leave distinctive “calling cards” identifying themselves at the scene. These thieves may be loveable rogues or noble heroes working for the greater good by flouting laws, the fun is in watching them outwit everyone.)
- meitantei (the great detective stories)
- kodomomuke (meant for children)
- mind screw (time to dissect all the crazy stuff you think is symbolic but might not be and oh, here’s a non-sensical episode just to mess with you–your immediate response is probably “What the heck did I just watch?” if you’re feeling polite.)
- moe (usually about super cute and huggable characters, often is about a certain character in a series but can be used about a whole series sometimes)
- slice of life (anything that’s basically real life–quirky and colourful characters go about their daily lives and make observations about the world around them and themselves, often resembles situational comedies but can also be dramas)
I can’t really think of any others off the top of my head (and I didn’t cover sub-genres at all) but if you go to AnimeNfo, anime-planet or AnimeNewsNetwork (amongst others) you could find a real comprehensive sort of list, if you really want one. And yes, I am aware that this posting makes me sound like a Super Dork…