not eDo I want to be good?f
but eWhom do I want to be like?f
we shall have to begin with the children
So what did I take away from this whole experience?
I thought a lot about the appeal of anime. Why are some people drawn so fanatically to it while others are indifferent and unmoved? Why are some people willing to travel thousands of miles for an event like this?
IT'S HARD TO BE DIFFERENT
Well, certainly anime requires an openness and curiosity. It is very easy to turn away from something in a very foreign language.
By the way, most anime enthusiasts prefer their anime in Japanese with English subtitles rather than over-dubbed in English. It offers more insight into what's actually going on. Oni-chan, Oni-san, and Oni-sama carry a huge difference in meaning in Japanese, but could all be accurately translated into English as "brother", if not "hey, you".
Many are actually led to study Japanese to better understand the actual meaning of things said rather than relying on a translator of dubious skills or sensibility.
Also, the entire culture is clearly very different and difficult to connect to. A hand gesture that means "goodbye" in western culture means "come here" in Japan.
There is also a negative social stigma to be overcome. "Cartoons" in western culture are traditionally a simplistic children's entertainment form. Not so in Japan.
I've heard that 85% of Japanese publishing is in the form of manga or "comics". If true, I think this is not because the Japanese love children's entertainment, but because it's so difficult to read the language. The Japanese have 4 separate writing systems to learn. To read a Japanese newspaper, you need to know 2200 symbols of just one of these systems. At best a pain, this must disqualify at least some people from reading heavy text at all.
THE UGLY ALTERNATIVE
Secondly, I think there has to be a dissatisfaction with American culture. A very brief look at the commercially-driven world of American popular culture reveals a glorification of crime, violence, greed, and amorality.
Young boys are encouraged to look up to street gangsters; young girls to scantily-clad sluts. No thought is given to what's good for people, only the maximization of profit through exploitation of children's basest weaknesses.
Maybe the answer to mystified America's question "Why does everybody hate us?" has to do with the non-stop stream of murder, sex, crime, and mayhem exported to the world's young people. The politicians may spout propaganda about freedom and democracy, but that's not what people see in the movie theaters and music stores.
Although most seem to like what they're told to, some instinctively look for something that dignifies, rather than degrades the human spirit.
Anime offers an alternative to this spiritually and morally bankrupt world of American culture. I've heard that in 2003, for the 1st time ever, Japan had a cultural trade surplus with the United States. That means we now get more culture from them than they get from us.
THE HEART OF ANIME
One can find anything in anime, from young children's stories to hard-core pornography. But these are fringe elements of anime.
What is the heart of anime?
Serial Experiments Lain won the Excellence Prize of the 1998 Japan All Media Arts Festival.
Neon Genesis Evangelion sold so much merchandise that the anime market was depressed for 2 years.
The works of Hiyao Miyazaki are the unchallenged mark of excellence in anime.
What do these diverse pieces have in common?
Lain is about a girl who discovers a whole new world. Her very existence is threatened and she gains mastery over this world through courage and learning new skills, finally erasing her self completely to take care of others who aren't even aware of her existence.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (more properly translated as New World Evangel) tracks the inner struggle of a boy uniquely able to combat an unknown world-destroying force. He has many inner conflicts concerning his father, the women in his life, and his duty.
Miyazaki's works, though necessarily somewhat varied, all focus on characters finding themselves through how they react to defining situations in their lives.
The pattern is clear. The best of anime deals with issues important to young people. Who am I? What are my abilities? How can I find happiness and my place in the world?
THE BOTTOM LINE
The cynical American answer to these questions seems to be through the misuse of sex , violence, and anything else to grab as much of material value for yourself as possible, preferably with the maximum property damage on the way.
Even the American armed forces have perverted traditional values with this orientation in order to increase recruitment. "Be all that you can be" has become "Be an army of one". "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" has become "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of those that threaten them".
Japanese values are much more group-oriented than America's celebration of the individual. Compare the classic Japanese saying "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" with the American "The squeaky wheel gets the grease".
The Japanese answer considers that happiness is found in the context of belonging to the group, and includes useful service to others.
American youth are not a mindless mob of slavering, sex-crazed criminals. They are looking for the same answers that youth everywhere always has.
Where can they turn when their own culture lets them down, choosing to sacrifice their moral futures on the altar of profit?
The strong ones will make extra effort to find meaning and purpose in life, even if it means penetrating another language and culture.
I think an anime convention attracts people, mostly young, who are making this effort, and who deep down, are looking for a reinforcement of these positive values that they don't find in the world around them on a daily basis.
Much of this is subconscious and unarticulated. But where else would you find a bunch of kids holding up signs that say "Please hug me"?
Many people are working to increase the popularity of anime. My fear is that if Hollywood smells a dollar here, they will co-opt anime and enslave it to their evil ends. They did it to the hippies, and now they're working on the internet.
So enjoy anime while you can, and enjoy the anime people, and don't let the "terrorists" of greed make you afraid to hug a kid, like I am.
Copyright C 2004, D. Robert Baker