The 2000s have been an unusual time in anime fandom. It’s achieved greater popularity and notoriety than ever before, but it’s also been characterized by claims that the people who create anime have lost their adventurous spirit, that shows are too dumb, creators are too cynical, and that what made anime great isn’t there or isn’t there in sufficient amounts. I don’t believe this to be the case, but I occasionally have trouble convincing naysayers otherwise. How can you talk about the subtleties of experimentation within genres that people refuse to watch in the first place?
The other day I was reading the animation blog AniPages Daily when his post on what makes animation interesting caught my eye.
“Five or six years ago, I discovered something that kind of renewed the waning spark of my enthusiasm for anime: a set of Japanese animators creating flamboyantly stylish animation that was exciting like no animation I’d ever seen. It was the discovery of the existence within the anime industry of a coterie of animators with a deeply creative spark like Masaaki Yuasa, Shinya Ohira, Satoru Utsunomiya, Atsuko Fukushima, Yoshinori Kanada and Takeshi Koike – each working within the industry, yet managing to carve out a stylistic niche of the kind that elsewhere might only be attainable in the capacity of an independent animator – that renewed my faith in the power of animation, and showed me that some of the most exciting animation being made today was being made by these people in Japan. These animators heightened my awareness of the animated element in animation, and expanded my appreciation of the importance of movement in animation. But more than that, the sheer audacity and brashness of their individuality opened my eyes to a rich vein of creativity in the Japanese animation industry. There have been many great animators over the decades in Japan, and these animators continuing that tradition opened my eyes to a hidden narrative of anime history that broadened my appreciation of anime and renewed my faith in its potential.”
This post was written November 7, 2008.
Now, the man behind AniPages Daily is not your typical blogger. When I say it’s an animation blog, I mean it’s an animation blog. AniPages Daily is concerned with quality of animation above all else, and he’ll seemingly watch any show for it, from Naruto to Tiger Mask. He doesn’t talk about character designs, writing, story, giant robots, or fanservice, unless it concerns how a scene was animated. I really don’t watch animation like he does, and I’m not sure if I could completely agree with the idea of watching animation for the animation. However, I can appreciate his approach and the fact that it’s different from mine, and it left an impression on me that he could look at today’s anime, often criticized for lack of experimentation, and from his relatively unusual perspective see ideas and techniques being pushed towards greater heights.
It makes me wonder if it’s actually possible for anime to truly stagnate. Yes, there are disappointing shows, and ones that you could call better than others, but even in those shows which do not manage to succeed artistically or financially there are hands at work, and they may be achieving something special, just in an area that you or I don’t expect or pay any attention to. Maybe it’s in the soundtrack or even the use of the soundtrack relative to the animation. Maybe it’s daring risk-taking with forms of storytelling. Maybe it’s highly unorthodox mecha designs. And all of this is within the confines of an industry which is concerned with appealing to larger audiences.