It’s a criminal understatement to say that Superheroes are pretty big in America. The Marvel Cinematic universe alone has been releasing some of the highest grossing films every year since 2008, having released 16 films at the time of writing. Superheroes and what they stand for are integral to American pop culture. America isn’t the only country with superheroes, but it is safe to say it popularized them by creating some of the most iconic heroes ever made.
So it’s interesting what happens when artists from other countries craft stories about Superheroes. How do they view superheroes and what kinds of stories do they make about them? British comic artists like Alan Moore opt for a more grim take on superhumans in alternate timeline stories like Watchman or even in established properties like Batman: The Killing Joke. But recently, Japan has made a few Anime that have captured the superhero market of America in a big way.
One Punch Man by Studio Madhouse and My Hero Academia by Studio Bones are two of the most popular Anime of the last three years. Both produced by credible high-profile studios and both garnering a fair following in the US. The former a viral hit and the latter an ongoing shonen series that is essentially a textbook guide for how to do a shonen series right. On top of all of that, these shows are fantastic superhero stories.
There is a reason I chose to analyze these two series through the lens of superhero fiction rather than say the shonen genre like most people do. The most monumental difference I notice between these two Anime and superheroes in the west is that the government doesn’t just coexist with superheroes, but actively regulates and monitors them.
Keeping this in mind, what would it be like to live in the worlds of these shows or even be a hero in one of them? Are these societies and their systems stable? Most importantly, what do these shows do with the superhero genre that isn’t too common in American superhero fiction?
What the hell IS Anime? Maybe you think the answer is obvious but the topic of the term’s application seems to be a heavily debated one. It makes perfect sense when we are talking about shows from Japan but in the same discussions about shows like Fullmetal Alchemist or Naruto, you could easily hear someone bring up American animated shows like Avatar or Voltron. There are countless arguments online as to the valid application of the term and just as many debating if the term’s use should even matter.
To me, the term “Anime” can be misused in a way that, by no intent of the person who misuses it, can paint a false image of Anime and perpetuate certain ideas about the medium of animation or the sub medium known as Anime. So today I want to lay out exactly what I consider to be Anime, how I rationalize this, and why I even give a shit.
[This analysis contains spoilers for Ghost in the Shell 2017]
Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders, is not a great movie. That isn’t to say it is terrible. I feel the need to clarify that in a world where sometimes it feels like things are either great or terrible. No, Ghost in the Shell may not be great, but it is an average, entertaining science fiction action flick.
Many will accuse this film of whitewashing, though I would argue many of those people haven’t seen much of the series. The hardcore fans who have seen the series mainly dislike the film for being a dumbed down, poor adaptation. Is it dumbed down? Certainly. Is it a poor adaptation? Well, that depends on your perspective.
Keep in mind that EVERY version of Ghost in the Shell is significantly different from the other. The characters and lore change enough between them that it is easier to think of them as completely separate universes. Even the original manga creator, Shirow Masamune, said there was no definitive Ghost in the Shell. Hell, the original film was an adaptation of the manga and by all merits, it was nothing like the manga.
So in this analysis, I’m not judging GITS 2017 as an adaptation, but simply a new, flawed take on the series. I want to look at how this film fails to capture the essential elements of the series and even look what makes this film unique and the themes and messages that- if executed properly- could have led to a truly different, but all-together great classic.
Anime is often accused of having way too much sexualization to truly take the medium seriously. So what do I think, having been invested in this medium for so long? Well, I take to this topic the same stance I have on most discussions about representation and content in media. Sexualization itself is not the problem. The problem, if you feel there is one, is in the execution and frequency of said sexualization.
I’m of the mind that sex appeal is a necessary part of media because sex and the wide array of emotions tied to it make it a great emotional appeal in a narrative. Of course, it has other, more obvious uses as well, but I don’t think we should be afraid of sex in media, we should be afraid of not having enough variety in our media to balance out that sex.
[Update (May 13th, 2017): The official Under the Dog website is working again and the creators have posted the “final update” on the Under the Dog project. The blog post can be found here.]
In early 2016 I got really excited about a Kickstarter project that I had already known about for a while but never quite grasped the importance of. Under the Dog is an Anime project that was a Kickstarter success back in 2014, only to be on hiatus until the OVA was finally released on August 1st, 2016. It promised to be a gritty science fiction epic inspired by Akira and Ghost in the Shell. It was a project helmed by industry veterans but now… nothing. More than half a year after the release of the OVA and nothing. So what happened? How did a project with such promise fall so far into the depths of obscurity?
Spoilers below, click here for my review of this show
In the first episode of Akagami no Shirayukihime our protagonist Shirayuki works as a herbalist in the country of Tanbarun. Born with exceedingly rare red hair, she is told that she must become a concubine for Raji, her country’s prince, giving up her life as a herbalist. She spends a long time thinking. Soon enough it is night time. and she makes a choice. Rest assured, the question of whether or not she would become a concubine was never even contemplated. She wouldn’t give up her career so easily. No, instead she pulls an all-nighter, concocting medicine for everyone she knows in town, before cutting her hair and leaving the bright red ponytail on the window sill before fleeing the country. This act of defiance would become one of the many reasons that she is my favorite female character of all time.
At this point, it is pretty clear that Bones are masters of choreography and even clearer that I am a HUGE fanboy of their work. Last time I showcased fight scenes from the Cowboy Bebop movie, Sword of the Stranger, Darker than Black, and Mob Psycho 100. The quality of those fights truly speak for themselves but fights alone aren’t what make Bones special. It is their reputation for constantly creating new, imaginative works across genres and demographics, and still managing to approach each project with love and care. In that respect, today I will talk about consistency and variety, two qualities that make Bones one of the best in the business.
When you think of your favorite anime, which shows come to mind. Maybe it’s a sprawling epic like Fullmetal Alchemist or a feel-good nostalgia trip like Ouran High School Host Club. Perhaps you prefer to watch a shonen series like Soul Eater or a comedy like Space Dandy. Otherwise, you might be more interested in recent projects like Mob Psycho 100 or Kekkai Sensen. Either way, it’s pretty cool to think that every single show I just mentioned was produced by the exact same studio. Bones.
Bones was created by Masahiko Minami, Hiroshi Osaka and Toshihiro Kawamoto who previously worked at Sunrise, the studio that gave us Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. Ever since the early 2000’s, Bones has established itself firmly as one of the biggest and best animation studios in Japan. They have made some of the most beloved anime and are still making masterpieces today. It was around the time that I watched 2015’s “Akagami no Shirayukihime” that I concluded that Bones was my favorite animation studio. I wondered then, could Bones be the best animation studio in the world?