Best Anime Feature?

*Inhales deeply* Let's do this!

Hmm… (Courtesy of YouTube user Mother's Basement.)

I wasn't originally gonna write another Oscars piece. I already wrote one, and-quite frankly-I thought I summed up everything I had to say there. It's not even like Geoff doesn't have valuable insights, as he does and this is no exception. But in directly criticizing and venting about The Oscars, he opens the door for some issues that deserve rebutting. And while I certainly don't take pride in defending The Oscars each cycle, there are always key points and facts that get lost in the shuffle during the yearly "The Oscars are awful" hot takes.

Firstly, I have nothing against Geoff. He's unafraid to go against the grain and challenge conventional wisdom, as demonstrated by videos like this one. But every now and then I feel he misses the mark. And his trashing of The Academy's tastes is one of those moments where he does so entirely.

I'm aware that The Academy has made dubious Best Picture calls, but not all were as terrible as he claims. I actually didn't mind The King's Speech, even if its directing left much to be desired, and a good chunk of that fell on Colin Firth's well-deserved accolades as the film's protagonist (his speech at the end was also pretty good.) It wasn't my favourite movie of 2010, that honour belongs to Toy Story 3, and I didn't think it was as good as The Social Network, but to assume that it wasn't deserving of praise is dishonest. Especially since I'm one of the few people who considers Inception to be overrated.

Some of Geoff's other jabs were also uncalled for. He mentions that Star Wars Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back and Raging Bull were both better than Ordinary People, which won Best Picture in 1980. I'm sure that's true, but Star Wars Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back was actually not well-loved in 1980. And while Raging Bull might be the better film, Ordinary People, like Inside Out, was a valuable stepping stone in normalizing the discourse on mental illness. That's the kind of "importance" Geoff was talking about, no?

However, it's his remarks on anime that really bugged me. I won't dispute most of them, especially not how Best Animated Feature has mostly been Pixar and Disney wins, but there's something disingenuous about implying that anime automatically deserves to win "because". Because it doesn't. Anime's another form of animation, and implying that it should win all the time is a form of patronization. If you'll forgive the analogy, it's like saying that a chef at a 5-star restaurant will always be preferable to a diner cook: that may be true theoretically, but even the best have off-days and, in the worst-case scenario, turn out like Mario Batali.

I say that last part knowing well the irony of Pixar and John Lasseter. But it's worth noting that, even outside of the predator issue, the best artists aren't invincible. Looking at Studio Ghibli, the only anime company to receive Oscar nominations repeatedly, their films are great, but they don't automatically deserve Oscars because of their brand. I've covered this in greater detail before, but of their nominations, I only think they've deserved the win twice. And one of those times, Spirited Away, they did win. Their other "deserving" win was The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and that was only because The LEGO Movie wasn't considered at all.

I know anime fans are passionate, and I respect that. But much like Hollywood's diversity problem, more anime films deserve mainstream recognition, yet also need to favour quality over geography. I wouldn't, for example, put a Pokémon movie on the roster of Best Animated Feature in any year, as I don't consider the franchise worthy. I'm sure there are many high-quality anime films that are never considered, but there are also many more that don't deserve the accolades.

I also think that if anime is to be taken seriously for Best Animated Feature, then distribution companies need to up their game significantly. This includes proper theatre showings in the West that comply with Oscar standards. I know that The Wolf Children, brilliant as it is, didn't get a theatrical release over here, while The Boy and the Beast's release window was badly-botched. And I've yet to see Mary and the Witch's Flower have theatre screenings here. It's not as if a venue like TIFF wouldn't play these movies, especially given TIFF's reputation, so why aren't distributors putting their money where their mouths are?

As a final note, fans need to know when a ship has sailed. When Only Yesterday, a movie released in 1991, was dubbed and screened in North America in 2016, there were people who insisted it receive a Best Animated Feature nomination. Not only was it a re-release, but it'd long-surpassed The Academy's qualifying window. The same goes for Ocean Waves last year, a 1993 film that wasn't initially released theatrically anyway.

Do I wish The Oscars would take anime, and by extension animation, more seriously? Yes. Does it pain me that there's racism and ignorance in the voting process? Again, yes. But to imply that it's always so black-and-white is something I wish people wouldn't propagate. Because it's not so clear-cut, and as long as that's not understood, then the fight for anime's respect in The West can never be achieved. And that's the biggest crime of them all.


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