The “Anime Canon,” You Say? -The Anime Canon Project

Back in May of this year, I wrote about an idea to create “A Comprehensive Guide to Essential Episodes.” What it basically entailed was a desire to create a database of some sort to archive which episodes in a series could be skipped, and which episodes should be watched to really understand what makes these shows good or at least memorable. I came up with this idea in response to the anime fans I’ve seen and talked to whom have complained about the difficulty of getting into a show as long as, say, One Piece.

Alex Leavitt, in turn, has decided to utilize my original idea and convert to a much greater task, that of creating a true Anime Canon Project, or at least leading anime fans to understand why certain shows are “essential”—not that you need to watch them, necessarily (though Alex may disagree with me here), but that you need to understand how and why these specific titles have effected a great influence on anime fans and society beyond that.

Just to be safe, the canon here refers not to whether Naruto officially loves Hinata or not, but rather to a list of works which are deemed most influential to a given medium. In the canon of classical music for example, you would find names such as Beethoven and Mozart.

I’m not sure if Alex here is the first to try and tackle this monster, but the idea of an “Anime Canon” is in itself a precarious one (though not without merit). Not only would there be big differences between the Anime Canon of different countries (Golion was just another robot show in Japan, but Voltron is integral to the giant robot fanbase in American culture, just as Gloizer X is apparently an influential show in Brazil), but the last thing anime fans want is to be told what they should watch and that they are somehow inferior as fans should they choose not to watch these things. I am confident that this is not the message either Alex or myself are sending; as I have said in the past, the path to true fandom is not how much you know but how much you want to learn, and if done correctly this would be a valuable learning tool for everyone, including myself.

The Anime Canon should be not about what shows you should watch to truly understand anime, but rather about what shows you should watch if you want to see the degree to which trends in anime and the cultures that both stem from and are influenced by it. And the only way that this can happen is if enough people are willing to help while still keeping their heads on.

Give him a reply over at (alexleavitt @ gmail . com) if you’re interested, because I sure am. Alex: you have my e-mail address, so feel free to send anything you want over.

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16 thoughts on “The “Anime Canon,” You Say? -The Anime Canon Project

  1. I think the use of canon so you know where certain character types and motifs came from would be helpful. It skirts the question of series quality, which would help with contention. It does however mostly ignore the question of anime having different country effects, since the original creation of the anime is the focus.

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  2. I agree with this project wholeheartedly. It is the notion of canon that causes me to watch Mobile Suit Gundam despite the fact that in reality, it isn’t that great. There is a historical significance to the “classics” of anime much like there is with the classic movies that are taught in film school or classical music or literature. As you said, they “are deemed most influential to [their] given medium”.

    Understanding the evolution of a medium enables greater appreciation of it and as with any of the aforementioned pursuits, there will no doubt be discussion (knowing the fanboy culture, this will likely be in the form of tantrums from some people). But, this too will lead to greater appreciation due to increased scrutiny of a work by some who may not be swayed toward its importance.

    Who knows, maybe such an undertaking will lead to the creation of Professor of the Study of Modern Visual Culture in universities around the world. ;)

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  3. One Piece is actually a great example of a show where you CANNOT get away with simply watching a few key episodes or arcs – it’s a show whose greatness is built on character development encorporated throughout the story’s length of epic proportions. Alex states:

    “the goal of the project would be, again, to ensure the ability to produce conversation regarding the narrative structure or the art direction — probably the two fundamental elements of analyzing an animated work”

    The conversation to the narrative structure of One Piece would simply amount to “It’s fucking +417 episodes long, what else do you need to know?” I’ll just stick to standard brain washing techniques for people to find the strength to watch it.

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    • That isn’t a conversation. It doesn’t provide anything of value to the argument. Personally, shit like that frustrates me to no end. It’s devoid of intelligence and is the complete opposite of what it seems the goal of the project is.

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    • If a show truly needs the entirety or nearly the entirety of its episodes to illustrate its strength and quality, then it should be listed as such and have the reason for this decision justified. If you look at my original “Essential Episodes” post, at the very bottom I said that the “essential episodes” for Legend of the Galactic Heroes would be Episodes 1-110, i.e. all of them, because the show depends so very much on having the story unfold at a certain pace with little to no filler present. Of course, looking back Movie 1 + Episodes 4-110 might be a better fit, but that’s just nitpicking.

      So if you’re to say that One Piece is absolutely dependent on its long stretches, can you still justify telling someone to watch EVERY episode, including the fillers, including the Skypeia arc? To change the question a little further, if you had to pick ONE arc to showcase One Piece at its best, which would you pick?

      This is sort of like how if given a choice to introduce Gundam to people, you generally show the first 3 movies instead of the TV series, because 1) more people saw it originally 2) it fixes some issues with the TV series 3) it’s a lot shorter while also completing the story. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t include a list of essential episodes for the TV series.

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  4. “That isn’t a conversation.”
    Of course it isn’t. Nobody wants a convo like that. But pointing out key episodes, no matter which ones they be, isn’t going to convey why shows like One Piece are required.

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    • You’re kidding, right? Having a conversation about it isn’t going to do anything but simply telling someone to watch every episode of the series and not ask questions is going to prove your point? You’re working under the assumption that everyone is going to immediately agree to watch the entire series just to because you say so. People aren’t that easily convinced, especially when it comes to something that is going to require a time commitment such as One Piece does. You need to work work on your debate skills, partner.

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      • There are a number of ways I can and have successfully convinced people to watch a long show like that. Heck, even showing an AMV could do the trick, but that’s not what we we’re discussing. My argument is that it is impossible to effectively show with only a few (key) episodes why a character-development based show is relevant. Putting aside the fanboy inside me, “How many episodes would it take then?” is a reasonable question to ask if we want the project to succeed, but doesn’t that kind of miss the point of the project? What I wanted to point out was that narrative structure and animation art aren’t the only two important aspects when discussing anime. It’s been a long road for Western anime fandom to come out of that frame of thought, with the advent of moe and all; I certainly wouldn’t want it to avert back to the way it was.

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  5. Jumping from theillien’s first comment post as to in studying film in universities, classics are used. I suggest to look at what the recent animation universities in Japan have been teaching its students. Well, that is if those universities are willing to divulge to the public their syllabi.

    Also, Oguie maniax’s point about the significance of a particular anime series changing from culture to culture is a very complex and important caveat to the problem. I suggest that since anime is “technically” a japanese cultural product, the trendsetting anime in Japan should be considered to be included first than from any other group.

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  6. @Miha

    You should have said that in the first place. It is completely the opposite of your first two posts and expresses a bit more in the way of supportive argument than ‘“It’s fucking +417 episodes long, what else do you need to know?” I’ll just stick to standard brain washing techniques for people to find the strength to watch it.’

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    • An essential factor here you have to consider is “time.” Yes, you could convince someone to watch all 417+ episodes of One Piece, and they might even get into it, but if you only have so much time, can you watch that AND all of Dragon Ball Z, for example? Can you tell someone, “Hey Pokemon is extremely important in terms of anime in Japan and around the world. You should watch ALL of it?”

      Obviously the preferable thing is for a person to be able to watch an entire show, and then to watch every show in a genre, but that might not always be possible, and that’s what guides such as these would be good for.

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    • Yeah, but not every show get’s the “Kai treatment,” so to speak. It’s definitely a minority. Plus they cut out a lot of character and personality development that was shown in the filler episodes.

      But I understand where you’re coming from. If there were an abridged version of all long anime series like there are abridged versions of books, perhaps we’d have our problem solved.

      That type of series would be like reading the abridged version of Journey to the West (~300 pages) instead of the original (~2000 pages). You still understand the story and feel the experience of why it’s considered a classic, but you don’t have to invest as much time.

      That said, you also miss out on a lot of the back story and interwoven elements, just like in Kai.

      I think what we’re basically discussing here (in regards to the time issue) are abridged versions of anime.

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      • While the idea of providing an abridged version might be a good idea time-wise, I think for the sake of the ACP it would be best to set the notion of essential episodes aside and look only at the impact, importance and contribution to anime a series has provided as a whole — at least, initially. Only after these attributes have been solidified for an entire series and it has been added to the list (or prevented from being added) should further discussion about essential episodes be taken.

        If you divert focus from the series as a whole at the beginning of its consideration the project will become bogged down in minutiae and never come close to reaching the proposed goal.

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