5 Points About the Anime Fandom That I Can't Stand

For as much as I attempt non-condescension in my contributions to Infinite Rainy Day, sometimes I have no choice. The anime fandom simply has a lot of arrogance that needs addressing. Therefore, today I’d like to tackle some complaints I have about my fellow Otaku and their “holier than thou” attitude. Hold on tight, this’ll be a dense one.



1. On animation fluidity-there’s this common sentiment amongst many fans that anime flows better than Western animation. The claim is that the West is lazy with its animation, while the East are the purveyors of the only “true” kind. It pops up everywhere, such that it’s impossible to get a word edgewise. However, I’m gonna do it anyway, as it’s kinda misleading.

See, one of anime’s most well-known secrets is how cheap the industry is. Anime is usually put out with the expectation of weekly airings, so a lot of corners are cut for time. A lot of shows, and even some films, aren’t given the full attention they require. For the most part, the in-anime “camera” will show off talking heads from a cool and unique angle, leaving the actual fluidity for the action. This is true for almost all anime.

The weird part is that a lot of professional animators acknowledge this. From what I’ve gathered, many Western schools of animation aren’t big on anime style, largely because: a. It’s cheap. b. It’s lazy. c. It’s easy to replicate. And d. It lacks detail. In fact, there’s even a series of YouTube videos by TheJosephShow that try to explain why anime lacks movement compared to Western animation by constantly mentioning “fluidity”.

That’s the key here: “fluidity”. Animation's, by definition, about movement, something the West knows how to do better due to better allocations of budgets. The West may consider animation a “kid’s medium”, hence why it largely uses it for children’s stories, but even something like Spongebob Squarepants has more flow than a high-end anime series. It doesn’t matter if it “looks like crap”, it’s true. And the sooner fans acknowledge that, the happier off they’ll be.

Does this mean that all anime is bad? Of course not! Animation is a medium of storytelling, so good writing can compensate for shoddy animation. Remember how the Digimon franchise always looked like garbage? Remember how the character models and action scenes lacked any fluidity or personality? Remember how I wrote about how much I loved it anyway? Like I said, good writing can help overcome shoddy animation.

Actually, why is it so pressing that anime be “more fluid” than Western animation? Is it because of an inferiority complex? Does claiming it make fans feel better about what they’re watching? Is it really such a big deal that anime is cheaper? I’m curious.

2. On the nuances of lip-flaps-this is one that I’ve covered before, but it bears repeating anyway. Far too often there’s an assumption that anime lip-flaps are so much better rendered than those of Western animation because, well, it’s anime. The level of detail is crisper, the words are prettier, it’s incomparable! Anime lip-flaps, they argue, are proof that Japanese is far superior to English in every way possible. And if you have a problem with that, you’re wrong.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no. I don’t like English as a language, even though it’s my Lingua Franca, but that doesn’t mean that anime lip-flaps are superior. Because they aren’t, and for one reason: they mostly move up and down. They occasionally stretch sideways for emphasis or singing, but it’s an oversight to claim otherwise. In fact, you’d have to be blind to not see that.

In contrast, Western animation has the characters move their mouths to match their speech patterns. This is especially prevalent the more a studio goes out of its way to highlight the nuances and subtleties of lisps, stutters or other speech disorders. And while I’m aware that the grunt work tends to go to China or South Korea if you’re not a company like Pixar or DreamWorks, because it’s cheaper, those subtleties and nuances don’t automatically disappear. It also ties in with the higher budgets, as the funds make for better lip-flap choices.

The increased attention to detail also helps with immersion. I’m fine with anime’s mouth movements, I can suspend my disbelief quite a bit, but remember that a human’s mouth, irrespective of language, moves in a variety of subtle ways. If you don’t believe me, try speaking in front of a mirror and paying close attention to your lips. Capturing that in animation is important.

While we’re on that note, I hate it when people get mad over loose translations. If we go with what I said, the lip-flaps of anime characters are so generic that I can time them and add nonsense without much difference. Considering there’s a YouTube account out there that does that with Hollywood blockbusters anyway, and they’re live-action, it’s not impossible. It’d be highly-disrespectful, but it’s not impossible. It’s something to remember when you make this claim.

3. On the budgets of anime shows and films-the kicker here is the claim that anime has more money poured into it because animation is taken more seriously in Japan. This isn’t true. Anime may look more detailed than Western animation, but that’s because the style is more detailed by default. When compared to the budget of a cheaply-made cartoon like Spongebob Squarepants or The Fairly Odd Parents, the amount of resources put into the budget of an anime series is close to nothing.

Movies are no different. Sure, they have higher budgets than shows, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pale to Western animated films. Nausica√§ of the Valley of the Wind was, allegedly, made on the same budget as a single, standard episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Princess Mononoke rounds out to an estimate of $24 million USD. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, on the other hand, barely cracks $50 million USD, and that’s considered the most-expensive anime film ever made! Disney and Pixar films, even with the corners they cut, usually are anywhere from 8 to 10 times that amount!

Honestly, what’s keeping the industry alive, next to high demand, is passion. Anime is an industry run by talented animators who are passionate. They get paid next to nothing to create high-quality results regularly, and if you look closely at the individual frames of animation, you’ll see the budget restraints by way of backgrounds, lack of character fluidity and a ton of errors. This is commonplace, yet the passion seeps through anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, anime wins out in character details…when they’re the focus. I have immense respect for what Japanese animators churn out, and I wish many Western animation studios cared even a fraction of that amount. But the head animator behind One-Punch Man put it best when he said that animators join “passion and obsession” to make anime work. Essentially, it’s all about commitment to the craft. Even if your budget is dirt-poor, you can make something memorable if you care. After all, Hollywood first-timers have done great stuff with next to no budget, so why not anime? Ponder that.

4. On dub voice acting-I’ll keep this one as brief as possible, considering that I’ve covered this before on several occasions: anime dubs are a valid form of watching anime. I don’t care if it’s “inauthentic”. I don’t care if it “changes lines”. I don’t even care if the “voices are different”. Dubs aren’t the devil, they’re an alternative for people who don’t speak Japanese.

I’m not sure why this argument persists. Is it because people have a hard-on for Japanese audio? Because rest assured, it’s not so simple. As someone I Follow on Twitter once said, the original voices might not always be as great as people think. They might be reading from a cookbook and no one would notice, hence why it’s so important to know the actual language fluently. Then again, most complainers don’t.

Alternatively, it could be because of the lip-flaps. To that, I refer to point #2. Anime lip-flaps aren’t normally that nuanced, even though there are exceptions (see Akira), and it shows. This is because anime lip-flaps are usually drawn before the audio is recorded, unlike the rest of the world, so the genericness of said flaps can allow for anything if timed correctly. It’s not so one-sided.

Look, I have the utmost respect for seiyuu and the effort they put into their roles. Voice acting is often a thankless job, and a lot of these individuals are trained professionally. I also recognize that there are anime shows and films where the voice acting is far superior in Japanese. But that doesn’t negate the effort put into dubs. It’s case-by-case, and there are dub tracks that surpass their counterparts.

5. On anime being a medium of maturity and risks-this is the easiest to understand the rationale for, as it’s somewhat true: anime is more daring. It goes to bigger extremes and doesn’t hold back as frequently with its storytelling. A show like Cowboy Bebop would never air on mainstream TV over here, as it’s too sophisticated for Western censors. Conversely, Princess Mononoke or Akira would be relegated to arthouse theatres, if at all. There’s no other way of putting it, anime is more mature and adult than Western animation…to an extent.

Unfortunately, this comes with two downsides. One, anime willing to go to such places means it sometimes goes places it shouldn’t. It’s not commonplace, the Japanese do have standards, but anime has gotten away with questionable degrees of violence, rape and bloodshed. Instances of tentacle rape (which is classified as its own sub-genre) and graphic murder exist in the world of anime, and it can be a little sickening. I think my favourite example of this is when blood spurts like crazy from a simple gash-wound. It can be argued as "artistic license", but it’s really uncomfortable and almost impossible to take seriously.

And two, there’s the issue of lack of subtlety. Anime in general isn’t known for subtlety anyway, what with all of its weird ideas and over-expository dialogue, but there are plenty of moments where it takes risks for “artistic reasons” that aren’t needed. You needn’t blow someone to shreds to warrant an R-rating, there are other ways of achieving that. It can often take me out of the experience, thus ruining the intended effect. I know it’s a tough balance, but given that Japanese artists aren’t dumb I’m sure they can figure it out.

All the more why Western animation deserves some credit. Sure, you have shows and films that shove in inappropriate content for the sake of it, or because they don’t respect children, but then there are Disney and Pixar films that teach hard lessons in mature and respectful ways. They don’t condescend, and while they tend to go for family audiences, because God forbid an animated movie be mainstream and not for children, that desire to grab everyone makes them age quite well. Even on the show front, you have entertainment these days that either has jokes for adults (see Steven Universe) or is for adults (see South Park). This isn’t including something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is in a league of its own.

I love anime and its desires to take risks. I don’t see a lot of material akin to Fullmetal Alchemist or Wolf’s Rain here, and I’m grateful it even exists. But sometimes kid-friendly is good too. I’d argue that it’s better than adult-only sometimes, especially considering what I’ve already mentioned. Essentially, claiming that “darker is better” isn’t always true. I only wish Otakudom understood that a little more.

So there you have it: my 5 points about the anime fandom that I can’t stand. Feel free to share some of your own in the comments below, but for now…I’m out!

Comments

  1. Hmm, let's see here:

    1. If you're talking TV anime here, then yes, a lot of it does take plenty of shortcuts, such that it can look pretty cheap. I think it'd be unfair to call the visuals of some of the higher-end shows complete crap, though, considering what some of them have been able to pull off. If anything, a show like "Cowboy Bebop" should be praised for looking as good as it does, even if its not the greatest looking thing ever.

    As for the high-end theatrical stuff like Studio Ghibli- well, put me on record as maintaining that they have made some of the best animation in the world.

    Short version- its all too easy for someone to come away from this first part thinking that you believe most or all anime looks like crap. You and I both know that good looking, reasonably fluid anime *does* exist, even if its not nearly as common as the weeaboos would have it.

    2. Outside of the fact that I don't necessarily share your dislike for the English language, I can more or less get behind your basic points here.

    3. Do keep in mind that the amount of money thrown at projects like "Nausicaa" back in the early 80s may very well have been worth more at the time than the same amount of money would be worth today.

    Setting the above point aside, though, I'd also like to point out that more money does not automatically equal better looking results [as anyone who saw the CGI orcs in the second Hobbit movie ought to be able to attest]. Sometimes, good resource allocation on a smaller budget produces results which look as good, or better than, the results of a higher-budgeted film, simply because the money for the higher-budgeted film was squandered on visuals which were monetarily more expensive, but which were artistically inferior in execution.

    Be all that as it may, your overall point has merit, and should not be dismissed out of hand.

    4. PREACH IT!

    5. I think this is probably my favorite part of your editorial, because of how carefully you capture the nuances. It really *is* true that Japanese animation takes risks which many animated films and shows in the West simply can't or won't take. The Japanese should indeed be commended for their willingness to push the boundaries of what animation can be about. But risk-taking is a tool to be used, not a guarantor of success, and not every risk they take pays off. [Nor does every risk they take need to be taken.] And just because western animation doesn't necessarily take those same risks, it doesn't automatically follow that it has produced no great works that are worthy of praise, or that it is somehow inherently inferior as a whole.

    Of course, I'm speaking as someone who considers himself an animation fan in general, not just a fan of Japanese animation. Not every fan of Japanese animation is also a fan of animation from other countries, the way I am.

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    1. 1. I'm talking in general. Even anime films take the odd shortcut here and there to save money and time (like how Mamoru Hosoda's early movies had Manga Iconography in to save time on facial expressions.) And while I did generalize, it's still true that Western animation flows better than anime. It doesn't LOOK better, but it does flow better.

      2. I'm an English major, so I've come to loathe English for all of its obnoxious rules and the exceptions to said rules.

      3. True, but 1 million USD was still not a lot for an animated film in the mid-80's. Disney films were much more expensive, and they were still pretty-cheaply drawn. I also know that more isn't always better, but my point was more directed at those who think the anime industry has ample money to spare.

      4. Thanks for the encouragement.

      5. I'm a fan of all animation too, but-once again-this was directed generally.

      Actually, this entire rant was a generalized rant. I in no way mean it to demean anime, I just felt I had to be a little extreme to get my point across...

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    2. 1. Oh, in the aggregate, sure. All I'm saying is that respectable/decent levels of fluidity are not *entirely* absent from the world of anime.

      By the way, thank you for your willingness to praise the level of detail in some anime. Its one of the things that higher-end anime tends to do fairly well, and its something I've come to love.

      2. Oh, okay.

      3. Point taken.

      4. You're welcome. Although I watch subtitled prints more frequently than I watch dubs, I am not anti-dubbing per se. I've heard some dubs that were very nicely done. And yes to dubs occasionally being superior experiences. The English dub of "Howl's Moving Castle" basically managed to salvage that movie for me, and "Porco Rosso" is a superior experience in English to how it sounds in Japanese.

      The only real quibble I have with your points about dubs is the bit about "changing lines"- if a changed line fundamentally alters a work's plot and/or themes, I *do* think that's worth taking umbrage with. [Which is why I dislike how Disney's English dub of "Whisper of the Heart" fundamentally altered the ending by not having Seiji go to Cremona, when he explicitly says that he will in the original screenplay. (People who speak Japanese have verified this.) That's a pretty huge change, however you slice it.] But that aside, amen to everything you said.

      5. I know.

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    3. Again, the "changing lines" part was directed at sticklers. I've heard people complain if something's not word-for-word, such that fan translations are usually so literal that the language used makes no sense. Localization is an important part of translating because English and Japanese are totally different structurally and phonetically, so making changes is sometimes necessary...

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