Shelter Me from the Anime Discourse

Have you seen Shelter yet? If you haven’t, please do. If you have, that’s great! What’d you think of it? I found it quite interesting, even if there were parts (like the electronica) that I wasn’t so hot on.

For those not in the know, Shelter is an AMV created in collaboration with anime production house A-1 Pictures, sound designer Madeon and indie artist Porter Robinson. It tells the story of a teenaged girl in a virtual world that she can manipulate via her touch pad left by her father. You learn a lot about this world, why it exists, how she got where she is and what’s keeping her going. The AMV is really a story of how memories, even sad ones, shape who we are, as well as how isolation can influence our development.

Shelter has also rekindled the argument of what’s considered anime, with it being a collaboration between an American musician, a French sound designer and a Japanese studio. Those of you who routinely check Infinite Rainy Day’s content will have noticed a window on the right-hand side of the site that Re-Tweets the staff’s Tweets. I usually don’t mention said window, both because my Tweets are usually ignored and in case my family sees the content that features there, but recently there was a string of in-joke Re-Tweets about what classifies as anime. I didn’t get them immediately, because I’m slow on the uptake, but after looking at the AMV and seeing the backlash…yeah, it’s kinda funny. It’s also annoying, as it’s led to some ill-founded slights against Shelter because of its origins.

Let’s back up to get a clearer picture: the definition of “anime” is loose. It’s loose because it’s the Japanese word for “animation”. It’s not some fancy demarcation term Japan throws around for effect, contrary to what many Otaku claim, it’s merely another word for “cartoon”. In fact, by technical usage, Spongebob Squarepants classifies as anime, as does Family Guy. Even Pixar movies are considered anime. In short, it’s as broad as the word “Otaku”.

That said, the divide between anime proper and anime in its generally-accepted usage is more defined. Simply put, the average person on the street wouldn’t exactly call a Pixar movie “anime”. Anime has clear traits that make it what it is, something I think this video does a great job explaining:

Basically. (Courtesy of Digibro.)

So yeah, “anime” may be a broad term theoretically, but practically it’s confined to content made in the East that’s meant for Eastern consumption (particularly in Japan.) Going by this, it’s easy to see how Shelter is an anime: for one, it’s made in the East for Eastern consumption. And two, it’s an AMV. The first word in “AMV” is “anime”, so that speaks for itself. There are other minutiae that make it anime, most-notably the character models, but those two points should sell the idea that Shelter is an anime, right? Right?!

Well…not to some people.

See, Otakudom can be a little snobbish when it comes to anime. This is so well-known that it’s even been satirized by groups like CollegeHumor. That Otakudom is so outwardly elitist in classifying anime means that: a. It has to be exclusively Japanese in content and production. b. There are no exceptions. c. There are absolutely no exceptions. This causes collaborations to fall to the wayside, hence why Shelter’s status as anime is up for debate.

Here’s the problem: arguing what is and isn’t anime based on flimsy definitions is a slippery-slope. It doesn’t matter how well-intended, acting as gatekeeper and shutting down stuff that “doesn’t qualify as anime” means that a lot wouldn’t qualify as anime. Shows like Big O, for example, wouldn’t classify because, as Digibro mentioned, its second season was made with an American audience in mind. Additionally, OVA collections like The Animatrix and Halo Legends, both of which are anthologies made by anime studios, wouldn’t qualify either because they’re tie-ins to Western properties (the former being inspired by anime action films.) It’s no different than saying that 2014's Godzilla isn’t a Godzilla movie because it was a Hollywood action film, or denying that anime production house TMS Entertainment has animated a good chunk of Western cartoons since the 90’s. Saying that “__ can’t be anime” does more harm to your credibility than you’d think.

Do I consider Shelter to be anime? Yes. I understand that Porter Robinson isn’t Japanese, and neither is Madeon, but A-1 Pictures has done anime shows like Fairy Tail, Fractale, Sword Art Online, Space Brothers and Magi: Labyrinth of Magic, to name a few. Ignoring that A-1 Pictures played a big part in this AMV’s creation is doing it a huge disservice. And it hurts to see that.

But really, the whole “is Shelter an anime” debate irks me because it goes back to the whole “Otakudom as gatekeepers” nonsense I mentioned earlier. Because, really and truly, it’s obnoxious to have people dictate that something isn’t “real anime” because it’s a mutt creation. Because, really and truly, anime should be watched and enjoyed, not lumped into arbitrary categories. The West has an unfair stigma attached to its perceptions of anime, it doesn’t need another one.


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