“Broad Appeal?”

Whenever I see an article or post about how anime is declining because of a focus on an increasingly niche, otaku audience, I’m a little taken aback. This is not only because the most commonly given solution, i.e. “make things with broader appeal” is easier said than done, but that the very idea itself doesn’t actually seem to be what its most adamant proponents truly mean or want.

Take Redline for instance, which is touted by a number of people as a sort of magic bullet that has the potential to blast away years of anime-related stigma. Certainly it’s a fantastic film on a number of different levels, but I have a hard time believing that it qualifies as “broadly appealing,” unless your definition of “broadly appealing” is limited to geeks with a penchant for thrills and visual spectacle, or alternately, anime fans from previous decades, especially from when “anime” was closely tied to “science fiction” in their eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to argue that the storytelling in Redline is excellent, and that it’s far more than just pretty explosions, but something like Redline will be not judged by a more general audience unfamiliar with anime based on the subtle nuance that exists in its otherwise extreme characters. It’s full of violence and has a sprinkling of nudity, and while that sells for some, it’s also an instant turn-off for others.

“Anime with broader appeal.”

“Anime that the average person will enjoy.”

I believe these to be obtainable goals, but I find that when people talk like this, they don’t necessarily want something for a wider audience, they want anime that is closer to what they enjoy most, that possess the qualities they think are most essential to great anime, or at least acceptable anime. Certainly, wanting more of what you enjoy only makes sense, but it results in conflating “broad appeal” with the tastes of the individual. Rather than something like Redline or Cowboy Bebop, maybe the answer will be the anime equivalent of The Big Bang Theory or Hannah Montana or something else far-removed from the aforementioned anime titles. Which is to say, if anime in whole or in part transformed itself to really aim for that bigger audience around the world, the result may not be what we might be expecting.

This somewhat reminds me of all of the manga creators that have been revisiting their older work. Even putting my beloved Genshiken aside, you have GTO: Shonan 14 Days and Rurouni Kenshin, among others. All of them have certain expectations associated with them because you have the original creators working on them, but when you think about it there’s no guarantee that the work will actually be all that similar. After all, artists can change given time and experience. Macross: The First is a retelling of the first series by the original character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko, who is praised especially by a certain generation of anime fans as being one of the best character designers ever. They might point to his work and say, “There, why can’t anime characters look more like that, instead of what we’re getting today?”

The only problem is, Mikimoto’s own artwork today doesn’t look like his work from the 1980s. For that matter, if you look at his stuff from between the original Macross and now, it also looks quite different.

Expectations shattered?

The “Curse” of Redline’s Aesthetic

Ever since before its actual release, Redline has been getting a lot of buzz among anime reviewers who have noted the look of the film, incredibly unique especially in today’s anime environment with a good deal of exquisite animation and attention to detail. The crowds are full of life and interesting alien designs. The vehicles used for racing are all incredibly stylish and showcase the wide array of personalities in the film. Redline oozes style and panache. However, for as refreshing as Redline‘s art is, it appears to be a double-edged sword through no fault of its own.

The “problem” with Redline‘s art is that it apparently makes people think the movie has no story, that it’s nothing but a pretty face, and has little to offer people who are interested in characterization and narrative. This is a mistake.

I’ll explain what I mean by just using the introduction to the film.

The movie begins with the Yellow Line race, a preliminary to the main “Redline” race which everyone in the galaxy looks forward to. The main character is Sweet JP, and based on the fact that it’s the start of the film, it’s easy to assume that we’ll know what will happen. If it’s a race designed to make JP look impressive, he’ll win. If he’s supposed to look like an underdog, he’ll lose. But then Redline throws us two seemingly contradictory bits of information. First, JP is a notorious for purposely throw races for profit. Second, JP really loves to race and has a passion for high-speed shenanigans. Just from that bit of information, the outcome of the race becomes ambiguous, as does JP’s character. How can a guy who fixes races enjoy himself behind the wheel that much? It gives Sweet JP a sense of mystery, and as the Yellow Line race builds up towards its climax, the question isn’t simply “will JP win or lose?” but rather “what kind of person is JP?” Would he give up money for the opportunity to enter Redline? It makes for a compelling protagonist, and it’s done with a good degree of subtlety.

I think part of the issue might be that Redline‘s frenetic, intense, and to some extent macho style makes people think that a show like that can’t have some heart, and even if the reviewers think otherwise, it doesn’t come across in the way they talk about it. While I do think that the aesthetic of Redline is such a prominent part of the film that if you dislike the way it looks you probably won’t enjoy it, I strongly believe that someone who is merely neutral towards the look of Redline can still get a ton of enjoyment out of it. Let’s not forget those potential viewers.

A Look at Fanservice Through Redline and Kanokon

The Reverse Thieves recently made a post about the level of acceptance that anime fans have for fanservice (meant here as sexual fanservice and not intricate weapon details, for instance) in their shows, where they discuss how the view towards cheesecake seems to get increasingly polarized the more extreme and perhaps fetishistic broadcast anime becomes. Having just written my own thoughts on a similar subject, I feel like the question of how fanservice is both executed and perceived, and I think the film Redline provides some good insight into the matter, especially when compared to a representative otaku fanservice show such as Kanokon.

Redline is an anime very different from the norm, and especially different from what is popular with the current generation of otaku. Featuring a wild aesthetic somewhat similar to that of Dead Leaves, Gerald and Tim Maughan on Anime World Order referred to it as the anime they’d been waiting for since Akira. What that means is that Redline is a film capable of drawing in both anime fans that had left the scene long ago, as well as attract an audience similar to those people. It has a manic edge that’s got a certain dangerous appeal to it, and that extends to its fanservice as well.

The women in Redline are definitely overtly sexualized. Between two chesty music idols named the “Superboins” and the most important female character Sonoshee getting an extended topless scene, there is no argument that the film wants you to think of those characters as extraordinarily attractive. They are, to a certain extent, designed for fanservice, but compared to the fanservice from a series like Kanokon, it feels very different.

It would be easy to say that there is a “right” kind of fanservice, and to make the argument that “Kanokon’s fanservice is creepy and Redline’s isn’t. That’s not quite right, though. It’s too simple, and based on too many assumptions, like the idea that just because Kanokon is designed to sell through its harem and Redline‘s appeal lies primarily in its visual design that there is something inherently wrong with the former. Personally speaking, I vastly prefer Redline over Kanokon, but I’ll save that for a possible review in the near future. The real difference, I think, lies not in simply how the girls look (lolicon is not even a topic of discussion or possible misunderstanding with Redline), but with how they present to the viewer, particularly male viewers, what kind of qualities a man should have in order to obtain the idealized women in each respective series.

With Kouta, the main in Kanokon, the defining traits of his character and by extension the things that get the women flocking to him are his quietness, his sensitivity, and his decency. In Redline on the other hand, the portrayal of the women emphasizes “he-men, men of action,” as the old Charles Bronson Mandom commercial goes. Protagonist JP sticks up for his beliefs even if it gets him beat down, and the man he idolized in his youth can be seen in a flashback kissing two bikini babes simultaneously. Both are versions of male fantasy, the nice guy who is appreciated by all of the women and the daredevil who sets girls’ hearts aflutter, but they have a decidedly different appeal to them that doesn’t just have to do with how much Kanokon toes the line between fanservice and outright porn. They exist on somewhat opposite ends of a spectrum of male behavior, and the manner in which the women are sexualized, not just visually but also in their actions within the story, runs accordingly. With that in mind, I think it can be easy to see why there would be conflict between the two sides.

This is not an indictment on either type of male character or the series which they come from, especially with JP in Redline who is shown to be sensitive in his own way. Neither portrayal is inherently worse than the other, but problems can arise. Indeed, while both the “nice guy” and the “man of action” can be portrayed well as men of character and strength, they can also be pushed to unpleasant extremes, though the nature of that negativity can itself be different. The nice guy can be so passive as to absolve him of any mistakes he should be responsible for, and the man of action can often times be seen as a man who treats women purely as playthings to be manipulated. It is also not an indictment on the fans who identify with either character type, as the meaning of terms such as “wish fulfillment” and “role model” can get complicated. Is it better for a quiet nerd to prefer the quiet nerd character he is, or the active warrior that might wish he wants to be? I think that question lies at the heart of the difference in how fanservice is executed.