**NOTE: The words CLAS_S and STYL_E are not allowed in Gamespot blog posts due to a bug that they seem reluctant to resolve. As such, those words have been replaced by the misspelled words CLAS and STILE.
Why Anime (Mostly) Sucks:
A Discourse on One of the Most Obvious Truths of Animated Cinema
The above title is a pretty bold statement to make; to declare that an entire genre of animation is mostly trash. I'm certainly not attacking that there isn't any good anime. I'm simply stating that the majority of anime is worthless, and even further, that anime is not intrinsically good or worthwhile. It seems that the more I look at it the more obvious this conclusion becomes.
There has been much backlash against early forms of this analysis, almost entirely due to the misunderstanding of complicated words like "most" and "majority". Some have even gone so far as to accuse me of never watching any anime at all. This of course raises the question of where I got my material or why I even care. But angry mobs will not be assuaged by logic. So instead, a story:
I was a big anime fan up until, one might argue, I reached the age of reason; about 18 or 19. Very quickly and very clearly it came to me that most of my anime collection was crap. I was scrounging through 12 DVDs of junk just to get to 1 show that was watchable. I realized that I had two choices: stop watching or lower my standards. Since I was incapable of the latter, which made the former my only choice, I was understandably frustrated. I liked a lot of my anime. However, there was much that I didn't. So after much deliberation and research I decided to write this little ditty in the hope that maybe I might be able to effect some change, or at the very least fill my inbox with hate mail. It's good to have a realistic plan B.
First, a little clarity is in order. What do I clasify as anime, and what do I mean by sucks? I don't think I have to define "Why" and "Mostly", even for Clinton (1).
My definition of Anime (2), I hope, is quite clear: Any form of animation done in the Japanese art stile that is from Western Asia. For the purposes of argument, I'm going to ignore any anime outside of Asia, such as American and French animation that mimics the styl of anime. I ignore these since anime "purists" will argue that French and American "anime" is not real anime. I tend to agree, but not for reasons they'll like.
By sucks, in this case, I mean that the condition fails based on observable criteria. For example:
Condition: Uwe Boll is a director.
Criteria: A good director makes films that are, at the very least, watchable.
Warrant: Uwe Boll does not make films that are, at the very least, watchable.
Conclusion: Uwe Boll sucks as a director.
My method of inquiry will be fairly straightforward. I'll specify an area of anime (Animation, Dialogue, Story), develop criteria for comparison, and proceed to beat it like Robert Blake's wife.
In the various incarnations of this essay it has been made clear (over and over and over) by anime fans that there are exceptions to every problem I point out. And to that end, they are correct. This however, does not sway my main argument that a majority (most) of anime sucks (is sub par for animated cinema). But in the interest of being fair I have included an exception section to each grievance in an attempt to show that not all of anime is trash. Just most of it is.
The distinguishing feature of any animated film be it anime, a Disney film, or a Saturday morning cartoon is that it has hand-drawn characters and backgrounds. Anything that does not have hand drawn animation is not true animation (Machinimation, and CGI not withstanding). From this, we can argue that what "makes" anime, is the stile that it is drawn in. Remove the animation, and not only do you not have anime anymore; you have the world's only subtitled audio book.
Animation is described by the Random House dictionary as "the act of animating". Animating is cited by the same dictionary as a verb meaning "to give motion to". Using logical deduction we can conclude that any so-called animation that does indeed not have pieces that are in motion are indeed not animated, and therefore: not animation.
Most anime fans will see immediately where this is going and won't need further explanation. So for the rest of you, here's a breakdown. A lot of animation in anime is in fact not that. There are long scenes (usually accompanied by a lot of "Huh?" "uh!" and other guttural utterings) where a single picture is panned across from one corner to another, occasionally multiple times. This means that there are many sequences within many anime that are no more animation than the Windows Magnifier (Record of Lodoss War).
The other argument along these same lines deals with a motionless character plastered, usually with their mouth open for some reason, against a lined background that fluctuates slightly. While from a technical standpoint this is animation, as there is motion, it doesn't matter whether it fails our animation test since this has been successfully argued that this is one of the many features of anime "stile". It may indeed be called stile but it comes off to anyone who's familiar with fluid animation as just lazy. It's far easier to show a still character against a streaked background yelling "AAAAHHHHHH!!!" than it is to actually show action or, God forbid, progressing the story.
Ideally, all animation would be fluid like Disney films, which use an animation process called "Full Animation". In Full Animation each second of film has at least 18 cells (drawings) per 24 frames. However, anime and its ilk use another type of animation called Limited Animation which animates every other of the 24 frames, making it clock in at around 12 cells, sometimes less per second. This is done for monetary reasons, since paying to have a third less frames makes the whole enterprise cheaper, but has the side effect of making the animation choppier and less appealing. If we're doing a comparison of Full Fluid Animation in a thirty minute cartoon (32400 animation cells) to that of anime's Limited Animation (21,600), Anime comes up quite a bit short, 10,800 cells to be exact.
But 10,800 cells is just where it begins, since the anime "stile" also has a few other cost-cutting tricks up its sleeve. These include, but are not limited to: a single stationary character is plastered against a moving blur, the camera panning across a non-moving picture (which obviously counts for less than 1frame per second), and looping video (where an action is repeated over and over using the same animation cells such as in flashbacks and unnecessary stare downs). All of which leaves you with a poorly animated, repetitious, borderline-slideshow animation feature. To put it quite simply, most anime is outdone in the animation department by a second grader's art clas flipbook.
So in conclusion, a lot of anime is indeed not animated (as animation, by very definition must have motion), of that which is animated a portion is either animated poorly and/or repetitious.
One of the exceptions noted multiple times in reference to the animation argument is the anime Appleseed. While it is excellent in many respects, it isn't anime. Hate to break it to you, but the film is technically CGI with cell-shading. To the many who brought up this computer-generated gem, in the most collegiate way possible I respond: "PPPFFFFFTTTT!!!"
A true exception to this case is one of my favorite animes, called Iria. Granted, it's not going to win any animation awards, but it's all hand-drawn, and unlike most anime, it doesn't look like the animators were forced to complete it at gunpoint. Also, Iria doesn't have crazy giganto boobs, another anime oddity.
Dialogue is a difficult area to argue, given that even though Japanese and other Eastern languages have some similarities with their Romantic language counterparts, they are indeed two very different beasts. It's easy to chalk up poor dialogue to the fact that most of us English speakers don't speak many, if any, Asian languages. I'm not so convinced that the sum of all the verbal atrocities in anime can be attributed to "translation dysfunction".
First of all, if you have a stupid story, you're only going to get so far, even with the best written dialogue. To test this, you can try an experiment. Go to anyone you know, and in the most functional and eloquent way possible, attempt to explain an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode with clarity (3). It was hilarious when you watched it, the show is still funny in your head, but in words repeated to someone else, though carefully chosen, its painfully clear to them that you need psychiatric help.
Even if this is the case, and all the dialogue issues can be directly related to average or poor translation that doesn't excuse it from getting into the film in such a state. At some point along the way some native English speaker had to have read or listened to the English translation of the dialogue and realized that this can be either clarified or redone so it doesn't read like stereo assembly instructions.
For giggles, I'm going to give you a bit of the beginning of a certain anime called "Voices of a Distant Star", which is an anime about cell phones. No really, it's about cell phones, look it up.
There is a word, "world". Until about the time when I was in middle school, I vaguely thought the word meant the area where the signals from my cell would reach, but why is it my cell never reaches anyone. Hello? Say, isn't anyone there? How far should I go? I'm lonely. Noboru? I'm going home okay? Say, where am I? Oh, that's right; I'm not in that world anymore.
Functionally there's nothing wrong with it, everything said has a point that's reiterated or explained to some extent throughout the film. But the question is: Is this the best way to word the dialogue? Or, reducing our standards even further; is this even just a GOOD way to word the dialogue? Go where? Who is Noboru? Where is home and why is that important?
Some have argud that the point of this intro was to introduce questions to the viewer, and that may be so. The argument I'm making doesn't require every piece of dialogue to be perfectly informative or in the BEST possible format. I'm simply stating, using this pretty tame example (there are far worse examples) that the dialogue is either defunct to begin with, in its Japanese form, or that after translation no one bothered to make sure that it was as clear as needed to be to keep the English reader/listener focused. We need to be clued-in to what is going on and not trying to make sense out of a ridiculously estranged set of sentences that's barely passable for an AOL chat room conversation.
Lastly, but certainly not least, speeches are a constant source of aggravation. This relates partially to the animation section as mentioned above because in a lot of cases it's cheaper to have a character flap their mouth for a bit to kill some screen time than to animate anything interesting. While I certainly can't prove that this is the case, I can point out that most of what is said in these long winded speeches falls into one of three categories:
Information that we, the viewer (and probably the characters) already know.
A long "morale boosting" sequence in which the phrases "human spirit", "determination", or the like are used.
A quick recap on what they are about to do or just did. Again.
In summary, while most would agree that the dialogue for anime ranges from mildly confusing to utterly incomprehensible, the reasons are a bit more complicated than "because it used to be in [Insert Eastern Language Here]". That poor or mismanaged dialogue is finally brought to the person watching the film is unacceptable even if the dialogue was badly written to begin with. Furthermore, even dialogue in anime which is well formed has a bad habit of being both repetitious and irrelevant to moving the film forward in a meaningful way.
An exception to this one is pretty hard to find. I'm a big fan of foreign films, and I'm not talking about hoity-toity-no-soundtrack-let's-just-have-the-actors-stare-at-each-other-for-two-thirds-of-the-film-cause-we-think-it'll-be-intense-not-boring foreign films. I'm talking about kick-ass foreign films like District B-13 and Downfall. These films are written in French and German respectively and I have a fairly good idea of what the characters are talking about in both because time and effort were put into the translation process.
Even the most hardcore "otaku" (6) would probably admit that most animes' weaknesses lie in the dialog area, however, it shouldn't get in the way of me understanding what's going on. So in this case it is not logical to point to an exception per se, but to a film that doesn't butcher the English language completely. This "non-violent" offender would probably be Armitage: Dual Matrix (4). It still has a few areas of dialog punctuated with the viewer muttering "do wha?", but it is film is probably one of the easiest anime to understand.
When I argue this topic with others who are convinced that anime, by nature, is superior to all other forms of animation I am constantly told that yes, the animation may be sub par, the dialogue may be weak and the characters aren't particularly likeable or original, but it's worth it "for the story". I put "for the story" in quotes because I have heard that verbatim constantly. I have to say with a degree of certainty that most of the anime I've seen has trite and two-dimensional storylines (pun intended) that follow predictable patterns.
Due to the differences between every storyline, even if they follow some common rules, I'm going to have to use more examples from individual anime than I did in previous sections. I chose shows/films that I felt reflected themes, patterns and conventions that could be attributed to the widest possible range of anime. So my basic word of warning is this: while I may make an example using Dragon Ball Z, I'm not arguing that every anime or even most anime follows DBZ's patterns to the letter. I'm simply pointing out a few conventions that can be applied to a substantial number of films.
The first pattern that I noticed almost immediately in anime is that ugly things are almost always evil, and attractive things with big boobs are almost always good. While examples of this are too numerous to mention (and anyone who's watched more than 2 hours of anime can attest to this) it bears pointing out because evil, if indeed you believe that such a thing exists, does not necessarily equate with ugliness. If that were indeed true construction workers everywhere would be jailed on suspicion alone. Looking at the flip side of this, one of my ex-girlfriends had big boobs and let me tell you, she was not one of the good guys.
Another problem with anime storylines and specifically character development is that females, even the super-hero types become stumbling idiots in a crisis. While this, in moderation, might be cute or funny, the constant repetition of the same system of events in many anime makes it not only aggravating, but almost insulting. The general theme of many films seems to be that women cannot take care of themselves, or at the very least, when it gets really tough they need a male counterpart to save them. Generally, you can count on the male, super-powered or not, to have to save the girl who suddenly becomes horribly inept in even the most basic skills such as punching or running (Inu-Yasha).
Inept might be the best way of explaining one of the overarching themes of anime, and cinematography in general; that love conquers all. Now this isn't a theme that is specific to anime, since many live action and other types of films constantly dabble in the love area (5). But, anime has constantly pelted audiences with the idea that love can stop or prevent anything. Especially if that anything is an advancing alien armada (Macross), in which singing to the aliens will stop them from wanting to kill humans. We have love, and that makes us superior and unassailable. I haven't done the experiments, but I have it on good authority that you cannot stop a bullet with love. Feel free to get a gun and try it.
If you live through that, you might need a joke or two to cheer you up (bullet wounds can be a real downer), but don't look to anime for relief. I occasionally fancy myself a funny person. Sure I don't make any kind of living from it, but I think I have the ability to at least tell the difference between highbrow and lowbrow humor and that which isn't funny at all. I clasify Highbrow as being humor like "Eddie Izzard" and lowbrow being "The Three Stooges" and not funny being "Anything that Will Farrell was in". Using this as a tentative guide I think you'll find most anime that is considered "humorous" falls in the Three Stooges to Will Farrell range as most "funny" sequences resort to excessive amounts of physical humor that isn't near as good as anything done by Moe and the gang (Zombie Loan).
There are more conventions that I could go on and on about that are over used in anime, but I've hit on the main ones that bring down the quality of the story just by their mere existence in the genre. Love doesn't conquer all, females are, as far as I can tell, just as good as their male counterparts at defeating evil serpent kings, but most of all, the majority of anime isn't funny. At all.
An obvious exception to the storyline issue is the film Ghost in the Shell, which has a pretty interesting, if incredibly strange and winding narrative. Unlike many anime titles that seem to confuse "intriguing" with "unintelligible" Ghost in the Shell's story is twisted because it (mostly) has to be. However, the sequel Innocence was just retarded.
Throughout this essay I've pointed out many parts of anime that are weak or poorly delivered. Taken on its own with the criteria here, almost every other genre (even the bargain bin of animation, Saturday morning cartoons) beats out the majority of anime on several levels. As shown here anime is not intrinsically good, and by its very nature should be considered, as a whole, bad. Poor animation, laughable dialogue from cookie cutter characters, and sloppily written storylines create a type of animation that is not worth anyone's time. This leads us to the only logical conclusion: Anime (mostly) sucks.
**ENDNOTES and SOURCES are placed as comments by me. Gamespot's Blog system has a maximum character limit which I hit when attempting to post these sections.